Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Balancing Act

The high-wire act is in the air. Exhibit A: Antonio Polito's column in today's Corriere, where he lays out the triple game Bersani must play as he lays siege to the Palazzo Chigi and prepares to govern. On one side are those who want to reassure the outside world (read 'bond traders and ECB administrators') that Bersani is really Monti redux with better political skills. Senior commentator Eugenio Scalfari said as much in Sunday's Repubblica, claiming that their programs are much the same (paywall, but quoted here). And Matteo Renzi's call for an 'American-style' Partito Democratico is of a piece: a plea for a big-tent, built-to-last coalition party not susceptible to the ideological fragmentation and collapse, à la Prodi's two governments, that continue to haunt Italy's center-left.

On the other side: what Polito calls the "Fassino-Vendola-Camussa axis," the left-wing and labor side of the coalition, which in no way identifies with Monti's austerity policies, and has become increasingly vocal in the last few days. Will these 'allies' bring down a future Bersani government, as they are said to have done to Prodi? Even the hint of such could frighten some fraction of centrist votes into Monti's column, and put Bersani's election in jeopardy. But the fact is, these elements, a substantial part of the PD coalition, do NOT see the crisis in Monti's terms, and are looking for a more interventionist governmental response (at least).

And Bersani? He continues to articulate a middle ground--Monti's program but with "a bit more justice and fairness," as he puts it--while avoiding any specifications that might explain what that slippery phrase is supposed to mean. Can Bersani carry this bland, non-commital message across the finish line? And what then?

So it begins: as I suggested a month ago, Italy's rejuvenated political system, with serious voices debating its future policy direction, is taking main stage in the larger European response to its perpetual crisis. Who will pay? Pensioners? Unemployed young people? Financial corporations? Owners of expensive real estate?  There are no obvious solutions--or perhaps even viable ones--but the Italian left is at least undertaking to explore the trade-offs, publicly, and--so far--civilly. We may not know for some months into a Bersani government where the chips (or which trapeze artists) will fall, but the daily pronouncements of these actors are worth the price of admission.


At January 9, 2013 at 1:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the real question is what lessons the center-left should have taken from Prodi's failure to hold a coalition together. Bersani seems to have decided that the lesson is to jettison the left and hold on for dear life to the center (most recently with his offer to Monti for a spot in the government...which even Monti called premature...

I think the right lesson would be for the PD to stand firmly against an alleged center that has always really tilted right. To notice that the FLI (Fini) started as fascist, moved in with Berlusconi, and now is centered with Monti. These are the guys you want to attract?

Bersani seems intent more on keeping Berlusconi from getting traction and he is willing to apparently do so at all costs.

But if he sells out to Monti, his coalition may hold, but Italy may not.

At January 9, 2013 at 5:25 PM , Blogger brent said...

I largely agree with you about the dangers of Bersani leaning center/rightward. Two small points: 1) Bersani's people seem to be saying 'First we get elected ...' a lot--clearly winning and governing are two distinct things, and may look quite different in actual practice; and 2) if Bersani leans too close to Monti, I'm not at all sure the coalition will last to the election. Vendola was awfully clear in his rejection of Monti, yesterday as previously, and I take this to be a threat that SEL ought not to be taken for granted.


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