Italy, as you may know, is in the midst of a general election (voting is on April 9th), and it's a pretty interesting campaign. I can't say that I always understand what's going on -- my Italian's getting better, but I'm a bit like a 2d grader reading the New York Times: a lot gets by me. Berlusconi ("Il Cavaliere," as some in the press call him) is an odd figure, by anyone's measure; I tried to explain to my fellow students in italian class the other day that, whatever else our political system might tolerate, it would never tolerate a President who was actively managing major media enterprises while serving as President. Which is precisely what Berlusconi does -- he owns or controls the largest TV networks, the largest music and movie distribution company, and the largest print publishing house in Italy, and he has continued to wheel and deal while leading the country. It's pretty strange. He is, the smart money seems to be saying, behind in the race with Romano Prodi ("Il Professore") -- we watched the first of two scheduled debates the other night, and even catching maybe 5% of what they were saying, you could see that Berlusconi looked uncomfortable and was constantly on the defensive.
He's also, it appears, about to be indicted for corruption and obstruction of justice, in a case involving an alleged $600,000 paid to British lawyer David Mills in exchange for perjured testimony in one of the other cases against Berlusconi. It's unlikely that this news, which just broke in the last week, will hurt him much, however -- he's got the John Street Effect working in his favor. The John Street Effect is named after Philadelphia mayor John Street who was running for re-election last year and was trailing opponent Sam Katz badly until news leaked out that Street's office was being wiretapped by federal agents as part of a wide-ranging corruption investigation (that has, subsequently, netted several high-profile political figures in its net). That news, it turned out, was the best thing that ever happened to Street's campaign, which, bizarrely, immediately picked up steam when the story broke. The news that he was quite possibly about to be arrested for corruption was somehow seen by many in Philadelphia as evidence that Street was really 'sticking it to the man.' Berlusconi has some of this same political mojo. It's most peculiar that John Street and Silvio Berlusconi -- each of whom, basically, IS the man already -- can get away with this sort of nonsense, but they can and do.