Politics & Policy

Italian Lesson

They don't call her Signora Pelosi for nothing.

It’s a testament to the relative political stability Italy enjoyed under the five-year premiership of Silvio Berlusconi that the fall of an Italian government makes the news. When I was a lad, you had to rake the things off the yard. But Romano Prodi’s resignation this week gave the European press a certain retro flavor — here’s Marianne’s stylish coverage — and it gave the Democrats a good lesson in how not to govern.

The best thing about Leftists everywhere is that when they win power, they suddenly find themselves in a rope glut. The stuff is everywhere. “Wow, look at all this rope!” they say. Then they either hang their opponents, which is what we call the Chavez-Mugabe option, or they hang themselves, as they did in Rome a few days ago. Faced with the prospect of funding Italian army units participating in the NATO mission in Afghanistan, a couple of Murtha-like legislators in Prodi’s governing coalition, emboldened by anti-American demonstrations following a decision to expand the American military base in Vicenza, said they wanted the troops out now — and in doing so brought down the government and reduced their own power to nil. The bloggers at Eursoc lay it all out smartly here.

Prodi’s fall is more like a bad stumble. While Berlusconi and his own center-right allies want a new election — and according to the polls, they’d probably win — that’s not very likely. Friday morning’s Corriere della Sera surveys the options, but the best bet is that Prodi will be asked to try again and by the time Italians return to work — well, okay, soon anyway — he will have found a new coalition with which to make a government. (In fact, the BBC is reporting it’s a done deal.) But no matter. The Italian Left has been foot-shot and as a result Prodi’s new government will not be an improved one. It will be seriously weakened and will limp along until nobody can stand to watch it any more.

For most of Europe, modern politics is like croquet, a game played by ruling effetes and ignored by people with real lives. But Italians treat politics as if it were soccer played by fat people with respiratory problems. They seem to enjoy watching their political leaders purse-slap each other. Savvy politicians understand this: One of the things the entertainment-savvy Berlusconi initiated at the end of his term was microscopically proportional representation, and the result is a legislature that resembles springtime on South Padre Island, party-wise. Although critics outside Italy, right and left (The Guardian’s complaint is here), think it’s a terrible system, it does have a stroke of Italian political genius to it since it prevents a government from claiming a mandate based on a narrow win. The left has as many political parties as it does politicians, so Berlusconi knew what he was doing. As Variety reports (using an unnamed “media analyst?), he even benefited from some of the no doubt unintended consequences of this latest leftwing self-indulgence.

As the Guardian’s editorial suggests, the satisfaction of voting against anything that’s pro-American is irresistible these days in Europe, where often the only way of attracting votes to candidates without plausible platforms is to exploit the continent’s rising tide of anti-Americanism. As a rule, most people don’t pay much attention to what their morning paper thinks, but when nearly every newspaper, TV station, radio broadcaster echoes the same anti-American line, eventually, anti-Americanism becomes a kind of small worldview. In America itself, liberals will try to convince themselves that anti-Americanism is based on a dislike of Bush, but in reality, it’s a consistent and very long-running hatred that is essential to the self-understanding of European elites, as many have pointed out, including Roger Philippe in his French bestseller The American Enemy. (It was also our topic here just last week).

The thing is, European anti-Americanism looks and sounds exactly like the Democrats in the U.S. Congress. The entire continent, from the Ural Mountains to the North Sea islands, is as blue as Pelosi’s congressional district. At least superficially, there’s no difference between the anti-American positions taken by most European leftists and the anti-Bush positions taken by almost all Democrats. They both want to force the US to engage with Iran and Syria and to get out of Iraq, no matter the consequences, and they both see nothing but quagmire ahead in Afghanistan. To both, an American retreat (or “redeployment, to use the now favored euphemism) is seen as preferable to an American victory.

For years the Europeans have approached foreign policy the same way Clinton did — with pious anxiety and demands for what Madeleine Albright used to call “time outs.” The so-called European initiative that was supposed to have engaged Iran and dissuaded the mullahs from building bombs was exactly as effective as the Democrats were in dealing with North Korea and the growing threat of terrorism. The only question now is whether the Democrats in the Congress will do as leftists do in Rome and vote themselves into irrelevancy.

Denis BoylesDennis Boyles is a writer, editor, former university lecturer, and the author/editor of several books of poetry, travel, history, criticism, and practical advice, including Superior, Nebraska (2008), Design Poetics (1975), ...

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