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March 15, 2006

ITALY: THE DAY AFTER THE DEBATE

In this latest of her special reports for DIRELAND on Italy's election campaign,  DIRELAND's Rome correspondent, Judy Harris, takes a quick look at the mood in the country after the Berlusconi-Prodi TV debate Tuesday night, which drew a huge audience:

It might have been a soccer match, to judge by the degree of interest. In this morning's Italy the only game in town was last night's play-off between Silvio ("House of Liberty") Berlusconi_vattente Berlusconi and Romano ("Unione") Prodi. When time was called, one out of every two televiewers was tuned in, a record number. That doesn't mean they especially enjoyed the debate. "Like walking into an ecological ice cream parlor," quipped one commentator--that is, cold and bland. (The campaign button at left reads, "Berlusconi Go Away!")

On the other hand this was TV, and the national daily Corriere della Sera devoted two full pages to comparing the two political leaders' shade of makeup (Prodi's was lighter), hair styles, shoes, socks, ties, lapel width, eyes and suits (dark blue gray for Berlusconi, a thin pin stripe for Prodi)

The truth is that Italians are chilled by the sober forum of a formal debate. This is the country that gave the world "La Traviata" and the beloved talent show called "La Corrida" (The Bullfight), in which amateurs performed by turns on radio and then TV until literally hooted off the stage. Watching two guys in grim suits seated at desks with a big clock ticking in front just wasn't the same.

There was certainly not much fun in listening to the two journalists putting questions toCornacchione  the candidates. Their questions were sloppy rather than incisive and made better reading in the newspapers today. "Another couple of these debates, nobody will bother to vote," said the Italian TV satirist who personifies Berlusconi by wearing a Napoleon hat, Antonio Cornacchione (right -- check out his website.)

    During the debate Berlusconi, seated behind a desk, busily scribbled notes. "Silvio is designing the Sistine Chapel," Cornacchione explained. "He knows how to do two things at once. If Prodi talks at all it's amazing, but Silvio can talk and sketch, govern and tend to his interests" all at the same time.

If Berlusconi had been reading his notes instead of writing them, he might have Tito_boeri avoided a particularly memorable gaffes. According to world-class economist Prof. Tito Boeri (right) of the prestigious Bocconi University in Milan, Berlusconi's claim that he had reduced taxes by 5% during this legislature is false. Taxes dropped "by just one percent in five years," Boeri said. "Many of the figures Berlusconi cited were wrong."

So was there a winner? Several post-debate polls of viewers put Prodi slightly ahead. Perhaps a more telling sign was Berlusconi's post-debate grousing, "I would have won ifthey had given me more time to explain my program. The rules were bad."
"Well, debate rules are the same in other countries," Prodi observed calmly. His calm just may make the difference.

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