Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Quo Vadis, Italia?

I began following the Italian election some months ago with high hopes that they would point the way forward for all of Europe, but now I have to admit that my attitude veers from disillusionment to disgust. How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways:

  • Berlusconi's zombie show. Honestly, I thought this bad joke was all played out, but no, there he is, making absurd promises of tax give-backs, taking tastelessness to its outer edge with his paean to Mussolini on Holocaust Remembrance Day, still ducking morals charges ... and moving up in the polls to the point where he will almost certainly deadlock the senate and maybe even realize his twisted ambition to be--hunh?--finance minister!
  • And Monti. The self-effacing brainy fellow who would restore dignity to politics as he did to governance, but instead took a course in bare-knuckles nastiness from an American political consultant. Now he's all poke-'em-in-the-eye, and counters Berlusconi by promising his own give-backs on a more gradual schedule. We can now say with some authority that Italian politician disease is contagious.
  • At least Bersani still shows signs of winning the premiership, though without a senate majority he may not keep the keys to the Palazzo Chigi long enough to unpack. But other than appearing to be a decent, calm, serious sort of guy, does Bersani have ANY program whatsoever (other than denying all knowledge of MPS's financial shenanigans)? Austerity with justice--the man is a walking, talking oxymoron. Like many a mediocre politician he has decided to sit on his lead in the polls, and in this volatile Italian electoral climate, that 'strategy' could prove fatal.
  • And Vendola, my friend Nichi, the man whose original, idealistic blend of communist social values crossed with a fundamental commitment to environmental justice led me to over-read Europe's destiny in his heartfelt lisping remarks ... well, it seems Nichi is a pragmatist after all. He wants to be in the government, and if that means sitting on his most important convictions so as to make a smaller target for Berlusconi's outrageous attacks, so be it. 
  • Who's left? Beppe Grillo, of course, the iconoclast who calls on Al Quaeda to bomb Rome--right, Beppe, can you hear them laughing in New York, London, and Madrid? But as Philippe Ridet points out in today's Monde blog, Grilllo's blend of old-fashioned retail politics--he has stumped through the peninsula day after day, greeting crowds and shaking hands--with the far-and-away strongest internet and social media presence may point the way to a new and more authentic political culture, despite Grillo's severe deficiencies as a candidate and--God help us--statesman. 
But if the road out of this morass passes through Grillo and his foolish, post-ideological a-pox-on-both-your-houses populism, then I guess I'm not surprised so many Italians are threatening to go that way, and not look back. Alas, paesani, there's not much there to see.


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