Monday, February 14, 2011

Italy and Berlusconi

Here is an interesting article about protests in Italy against prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. The biggest protests in Rome were singing along to Aretha Franklin's Respect (which is actually an Otis Redding song about beating up his woman because she won't respect him), a moment of silence, a "scream of protest," and speeches from a motley crue of feminists and people who just don't like Berlusconi.

Benedetto Bruno, a retired chemist with Italy’s Civil Protection Agency, who captured how polarizing Mr. Berlusconi has become. “People vote for him because he personifies defects that Italians have in their DNA,” he said. “When you hear about what he does, 80 percent of men think, ‘I wish I were in his place.’ ”

Mr. Bruno added, “I hate to say this, but Italians don’t want to respect laws, they don’t want to pay taxes, they want to do as they like, and he personifies this.”

The main scandal involves allegations that he paid a 17 year old girl for sex, then told the police who were investigating her that she was the daughter of, yes, Hosni Mubarak, then laughing it off by saying that it was better than being gay.

One aspect of this is a bad attitude to women. A politician with an attitude to women that treats them a lot like sex objects is unlikely to make good policy decisions about women. This is shown to be a valid concern considering that Berlusconi promotes underqualified show-girls to prominent positions in his government.

Another aspect is a bad attitude to gays. There are two ways of interpreting "better than being gay," even translated from the Italian "meglio che gay." On one level it means "it is better for me as a man to like women than to do gay acts." If you are straight, then this is clearly a correct and inoffensive statement. It is like saying "I like roast beef, it is better than steak." But on another level it means "it is better to for me as a man to like women than to like men." This is a statement that is about what it is better to like as opposed to what is better to do, based on what you already like. It is like saying "I like roast beef, it is better than liking steak," but sexual preference is a bigger part of people's lives than preference in meat. Now even if you believe that homosexuality is a ridiculous and gross perversion, a politician should still be more diplomatic about this and not make it into a huge joke which suggests hostility to people who are not like you.

A third aspect of this scandal is that it involves abuse of power by allegedly intervening with the investigation of the police. If politicians are allowed to act with impunity, then politicians, and the bureaucrats who are most likely to listen to them, are likely to ignore their constituents and instead enrich themselves, which has been a problem for many years in Italy.

A fourth aspect of this scandal is that a politician who venally breaks any law, like laws against prostitution, should face the same consequences as any other person. Otherwise, this not only contributes to the isolation of politicians from their people, but is also a way of allowing people to get away with whatever other behavior the state has decided is a crime.

Berlusconi has mocked the protesters as puritans and moralizers, but Berlusconi may be a symbol, symptom and source of the public amorality that is damaging Italy.

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