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Corriere della Sera, Italy

Extremism Doesn’t Pay


By Antonio Polito

Translated By Linda Merlo

10 November 2012

Edited by Peter L. McGuire


Italy - Corriere della Sera - Original Article (Italian)

In his meritorious attempt to survive the PdL [The People of Freedom] at the end of Berlusconi-ism, Alfano could report to the reluctant Cavalier a few of the lessons he just learned from Romney's defeat. Berlusconi, who built first his TV shows and then his politics on the American model, should be able to understand.

The first lesson is that extremism doesn't get you anywhere. That's why the Republican establishment chose a centrist candidate. But to win the primary, Romney had to shoulder all the radicalism of the right, and that was his biggest handicap – it stuck with him despite his late turn to being more moderate. The Medicare healthcare reform, proposed by his running mate Paul Ryan, scared elderly voters; a ferocious face toward immigration scared Hispanic voters, a promise to fire Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, frightened everybody. Four years ago Obama's “hope” won; this time “fear” of the right won. “The Republicans have become a party of Torquemada,” wrote the Economist.* And if the Tea Party wave has lost its intellectual and political driving force in America, it is unlikely that a “Party of Amazons” can resurrect it in Italy.

The second lesson is that the economic crisis has swallowed up all the culture wars and the ethical conflicts that seemed to have become the very essence of modern political battles. The anti-abortion conversion of Romney, who as governor of Massachusetts was rather pro-choice, didn't bring about votes for him. Obama's gamble, when he expressed his support for gay marriage, didn't cost him any votes. In the general disenchantment, Catholic bishops found themselves aligned with a Mormon, but the voters made their choices while thinking about their wallets. Ethical bipolarism seems to be declining even in its land of origin.

The third lesson is that it isn't enough to accuse the government of a stagnant economy to win elections. Since the Great Depression, no president had ever survived a first term ending with such high unemployment and such anemic growth. If Obama was successful, despite the modest results and disappointments, it's because Americans acknowledged that he stopped the country from falling over the brink into an abyss and he granted them a second chance. It is likely that the people who want to lead a similar electoral battle against Monti in Italy, identifying him with the recession, would come across as equally unbelievable to moderate voters, especially if it comes from the prime minister or the Treasury secretary from at least a year ago.

The fourth lesson is that fiscal irresponsibility doesn't pay. Even in America, where there's a central bank that can mint coins, the way Berlusconi likes to mint coins and throw cash from helicopters, we're approaching the brink of a fiscal cliff. The debt can't grow, ad lib, forever; in the real world no one forgives debts (this lesson is also useful for the neo-Keynesians of the PD [Democratic Party]).

Therefore, the deficit has to be reduced; you can't do that just by taxing the rich, but you also can't do it simply with cuts in social spending for the poor. The right wasn't considered credible on this point in America – where there's also a tradition of success in economics. It'd be better not to try this in Italy – where this tradition, to put it mildly, doesn't exist. If Alfano can really get across the heart of these four American lessons to Berlusconi, who still believes that all he needs to solve the problem is his clone, he might get a response more or less like this: “but Romney lost because he didn't have the charisma and personality of a leader;” therefore, dear Alfano, watch your back.

It's an effective objection, and there's a lot of truth in it. The secretary of the PdL could reply, however, with the fifth American lesson: Romney's defeat also shows that billionaires are out of style, especially if they change their minds every day. In times like these, the captains of industry can at best help you win the election, as Marchionne did with Obama, if they do their jobs and provide employment. But it is highly unlikely that another Berlusconi, whether a young ice cream man or the elderly billionaire that he is, can repeat his political miracle.

*While accurately translated, this quote could not be independently verified.
http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2012/06/paternalistic-policy



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