There is hardly a crime of which he has not been accused, but so far without penal effect. He’s often charged with press manipulation (he created a vast media empire (Mediaset), including the first private tv network in Italian history, and one of the country’s biggest publishing houses, Mondadori). But in fact he’s done precisely the opposite. Before Berlusconi, broadcasting was a state monopoly; he introduced a bit of competition into the mix. Forgive me if I like that. If it were up to me, I’d insist that all media were private, because I have never understood people who think it’s a good idea for the state to print or broadcast “news.” In the old days, Italy’s radio and tv stations were in the hands of the political parties, and you could choose your bias. I used to ask that system’s apologists, “if the government published a newspaper called The State, would you read it?” Certainly not, they said. “So why do you approve state-run radio and tv?”
The same applies to the BBC in Britain and NPB here. And Berlusconi has shown the way forward. All in all, the man’s got a million defects, but all in all I think he’s Europe’s best leader. Maybe that’s damning with faint praise, but there you have it. Eventually Italy will produce some new political talent, but we’re not there yet. Just ask Gianfranco Fini, who is the biggest loser in Tuesday’s dramatic events.
A word about Fini is in order: to his great credit, he led the Italian Right away from its post-war neofascist convictions to become a legitimate political player in Italy’s rough-and-tumble democracy, which was an important and perhaps even historic achievement. But his own political philosophy is best described as “Italian Gaullism;” a statist faith modeled on the 5th French Republic. Not surprising, therefore, that he has played second fiddle to Berlusconi, who shows respect and affection for the Italian electorate. Fini’s effort to bring down his longtime boss was not even presented as a campaign for serious policy changes, as can be seen from the Left’s eager support for his no-confidence proposal. It was a power play, and it failed, as it deserved. Fini had voted for the Berlusconi Government, and then tried to bring it down because he wanted to be Number One. And, as Machiavelli famously remarked, if you’re going to strike at the Prince you’d better kill him, because if you fail you’re going to come to grief. Fini’s days on the national political stage are undoubtedly few.
Bottom line: Until the new generation arrives, Berlusconi’s probably in office as long as he wishes.