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Berlusconi on the campaign trail PDF Print E-mail
Jan 17, 2013 at 11:08 PM

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Well, you have to hand it to him. Whatever you may say about him, at 76, a cancer survivor, and out of power for a year, Silvio Berlusconi has a hell of a lot of what the Italians call "grinta", determination, and he is in the midst of what appears to be a major media blitz* designed to keep his name afloat and to convince the more credulous of Italians that the current financial crisis is not his fault and that, if re-elected, he will make everything better.

This of course is nonsense. But last Thursday Berlusconi appeared on a talk show (Servizio Pubblico) on La 7, a respected television channel (that by the way he does NOT own or control in any way), and which is conducted by a well-known (and generally obnoxious) leftwing moderator, Michele Santoro, with whom he has been at odds for years and whose contract on Italian state television he was successful in blocking at one point during his prime ministership.

Berlusconi has been appearing on TV almost every day, meaning that the wonderful silence of almost a year that followed hi resignation in November 2011 is now, alas, a thing of the past. He has an answer for everything and one wonders why TV channels invite him if they are unable to find other guests who can and will talk back.

The show last week was watched by almost nine million people, giving it a record average "share" of 33.8% (at one point reaching a peak of over 50%) which is downright amazing. Whatever his faults, Berlusconi has a genius for communication with the common man, an amazing ability to tell lies (sound familiar?) and he also has balls. So, although he has done little or nothing to make Italy a better place to live in since he entered politics in 1994, he comes across as a "can do" politician and does an excellent job of telling you that black is white and vice versa. The polls indicate that following that show, during which he spoofed another leftist commentator (also obnoxious) by imitating his lambasting style, Berlusconi's party role more than two percent in the polls.

At the moment, his principle battle cry is a promise to repeal the detested heavy IMU real estate tax that has been a key plank in the austerity platform of the Monti government (to which, don't forget, Berlusconi's party gave full support until November). IMU, which stands for Imposta municipale unica single municipal tax). has a crazy story. It was voted into being first by the pre-Monti Berlusconi government and was to apply only to some kinds of properties.

When Monti, charged with dealing with what seemed like impending financial collapse, came into power his government (with Berlusconi's approval, mind you) then backed - said it would apply to primary residences as well and upped the rates considerably - my own real estate bill doubled in 2012 to over 2000 euros - but anyone with basic intelligence should realize that sometimes painful remedies are a necessity. Last week the European Court of Justice said that in its current form, IMU, was too regressive.

People are not happy about paying IMU, especially because under Berlusconi primary residences has been exempted from an earlier real estate tax called ICI. This made him very popular and his call for repealing IMU is clearly an attempt to repeat that. The former prime minister - whom Mario Monti recently dubbed "the pied piper" - is also telling Italians that the "spread", which last fall rose to near 600 points, ringing so many alarm bells that President Giorgio Napolitano asked him to step aside and make way for a technicians' government headed by Monti, was only a fiction, simply a plot to get him out of power. The "spread" is the term that has been used over the last year and a half by economists and government officials throughout Europe to express the differential between the interest rates paid on Italian (Greek and Spanish) bonds and German bonds, and its rise indicated a huge lack of confidence in Italy's capacity to pay back its mammoth public debt.

The general feeling here is that despite his renewed alliance with the Northern League party, Berlusconi is unlikely to return to power. For those who fear what will happen to Italy should this happen let it be said that the person who will most bear the blame is none other than Mario Monti. The 15 percent of the vote Monti is thought likely to win as the candidate for a small group of right-of-center parties primarily is going to hurt the left-of-center PD, Italy's major opposition party and keep it from returning to power as ahd been widely expected. This wilI mean chaos, unless Monti ends up allying himself with Berlusconi and we are back at square one.

I, for one (but I am not alone), have lost tons of respect for Monti who was supposed to be a technical expert (he is one of Italy's foremost economists) but a man above the political sfray. But I am not really that surprised. I used to know him - not well, but more than many - and you could always tell that on one level was extremely ambitious and arrogant, seeing himself as the man with all the answers. I feel he should have stayed out of the electoral battle and waited until the PD itself asked him, as it might have done, to fill a key cabinet post. Instead, he obviously has gotten a taste for being top dog.

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