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The Prodi- Berlusconi Debate- First Round

by de Gondi Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 12:44:37 PM EST

Last night's debate was a novelty for Italy. Stringent rules were set to take into every feasible aspect of the program from camera positions to neutral backdrops to lighting. Each candidate had two and a half minutes to answer the journalist's question, plus an additional minute to make a rebuttal to the opponent. At the end of the debate one candidate had the possibility to make a two and a half minute appeal to voters.

The two opponents were visibly emotional at the start. Prodi is known to be ill-at-ease and clumsy in front of cameras, while Berlusconi's tension may be due to his losing position in the polls. A good showing in a debate could help his position. He has made it clear that he is forced by law to abide by what he considers impositions and restrictions.

Promoted by Colman

Prodi comes across as a rural parish priest and a contadino, as someone who comes from peasant stock. He has large massive hands and tends to gesticulate with sweeping, almost surprising, movements to drive a point home. This characteristic is more an advantage than a liability. It's a reassuring image in the Italian cosmography.

In the debate Prodi stuck to his strategy of talking about the future, his program and proposals. He avoided negative remarks about his opponent and only once mentioned the center-right throughout the debate. He came across as a pro-active candidate who recognizes the current difficulties and offered concrete solutions to resolve them. His language was plain and simple. He made sparing use of technical terms and ciphers.

Berlusconi's mastery of  television played against him. He was the only one who visibly wore make-up. His desire to appear tanned by accentuating his cheeks was betrayed by the neutral lighting and lack of filters. He appeared to have a mask which turned his Reagan-like impish smirk into something between the Joker and Michael Jackson. He adapted a managerial persona and spent most of the evening doodling rectangles and circles on a blank sheet of paper as if he had an ideal text in front of him. This was distracting, all the more so because his suit sleeves would hike up the faster he scribbled. By the end of the debate he began to address an imagery point off camera, perhaps accustomed to having cameras move around him and his gaze. This created a strange effect since it seemed he was addressing someone behind the moderator while talking to the public. At one point the director switched camera to follow him, which appeared more a gesture of pity than a breaking of the strict rule of fixed cameras. This single abrupt switch of cameras accentuated the anomaly rather than adjust it.

Prodi always managed to answer questions within the time limit, setting the premises of his argument, developing his argument and concluding. Berlusconi consistently timed out with no conclusive argumentation. He tended to accelerate and raise his voice once he passed the time limit and would more often than not be broken off in mid-sentence by the courteous interruption of the moderator.

Much of Berlusconi's discourse revolved around attacking the left rather than answering the question. At one point Prodi remarked that Berlusconi seemed to be the leader of the opposition since he repeatedly blamed Italy's disasters on the past. Prodi reminded Berlusconi that he has been in power for the past five years and needn't go back to Garibaldi to find fault. Berlusconi's tactic was to provoke Prodi by insulting him and his coalition. Prodi largely ignored this ploy and insisted on talking about contents and the future. Berlusconi resorted to citing figures and obscure institutes that made him look tedious rather than well-informed. Prodi quipped that this avalanche of numbers would send half the public to bed and, besides, nobody believes in numbers.

Berlusconi made a major error when addressing the fact that there are very few women in responsible positions in his government. He attributed it to women's natural desire to dedicate themselves to the family and the kids. There are only two women in his government. Prodi replied that he found it sad to legislate something that should taken for granted, that is women should have at least 50% of the seats and office appointments. He said that beyond a consistent presence of women in his own government he would propose a law that would make a 30% mandatory minimum quota for women to positions of responsibility.

By lot, Berlusconi was the one to give a concluding appeal to the electorate. For 64 seconds he complained about the unjust laws that prevented him from speaking. He then spent nearly a minute praising himself and his government before lapsing into another one minute tirade against the left until he was once again cut off by the moderator.

Prodi had a right to overtime and made a brief and effective appeal. He acknowledged that there would be necessary sacrifices but with the scope of working together to pull out of a tough situation. He was in rural pulpit mode but highly effective, especially with his large meaty gestures. He hoped that by working together in the long run "we could organize a little happiness for us all."

According to all professional polls Prodi won this first debate.

That's good news. Thanks.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 12:43:19 PM EST
Yes, and thanks for the summary.
by PeWi on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 01:37:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wicked query: what moments in the debate do you think the Berlusconi-faithful could cling to as sign of his success?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 01:07:21 PM EST
Faith is blind. Toss a rigged coin.
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 03:36:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What's behind this query is that I know Republicans, I know Tories and pro-Bliar Labourites, I know CDUlers, I know Fidesz voters, but I can't even imagine the average B (or Fini) voter's motivations and worldview.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 03:47:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I rarely meet someone who openly admits he/she sympathizes for Forza Italia. (For AN, yes.) Conversation doesn't go too far because it bangs into "devotion" with a big starry-eyed "D." The figure of Berlusconi is fundamental to the party. I don't see it surviving him. It's more a personal political entity with religious overtones. Either you believe or you don't. Basically his electorate is reactionary, similar to followers of poujadisme or qualunquismo. The party appeals to primitive fears while idealizing the leader. Marketing is a strategic component of the party. Candidates and themes are created according to the logic of launching a product.

Many of the party's functionaries or key figures come from the radical communist left. My impression is that he appeals to the "orphans of Stalin" type of personality.

Another component of his movement reflects party struggles in the eighties. At the time, Italy's chronic state of being a limited democracy in the context of the Cold War gave enormous power to political parties and currents within the parties without any effective popular base. Italy was a partitocrazia in which citizens were at best clients when not subjects. This brought about diffused irresponsibility and massive corruption. (And Berlusconi was a major player at the time.)  The power system became feudal in which the distinction between left and right, between Socialist and Democrat-Christian was purely nominal. With the collapse of the partitocrazia after the Cold War, three new forces coalesced: the modern left with the ex-communists as the major force, the minor democratic fascist party, MSI, which became AN, and the Lega Nord which represented a racist impulse for major territorial autonomy. There was a void where the old power structure had been. Forza Italia filled this void aggregating the minor conservative parties with the so-called Socialists into a winning coalition in 1994, only to fall apart within little more than a year.

At face value it seems strange that a political entity can house contrasting forces that range from the extreme rightwing to the mock-left Craxi orphans. If you look at it as a representation of Italian political collusion in the eighties manifested in the King's body (le corps du Roi) it makes more sense. Rather than reverentially attend the good Lord on his chaisse percée, a good kick in the ass is called for.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 05:07:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great report...and great news, since apparently a large percentage of the Italian population has not decided who to vote for...sounds like Prodi worked to make them comfortable about a change.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 01:48:13 PM EST
The undecided are around 25 to 30%. However, 20% don't vote. What counts is the remaining 5 to 10% who vote. How much these debates influence that crucial pie slice is the question.
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 05:13:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
May Prodi win and Berlusconi be, finally and forever, relegated to the dust heap of multi-billionaires.
by Quentin on Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 02:20:03 PM EST
er, would that be the 'gold-dust' heap?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 12:11:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the doodling tic b. had was really distracting, and made him look half-there, as if his scribblings were more important than the debate itself.

prodi had a bit of peperoncino in him, and the long pauses he usually needs to gather his wits were reduced. a touch more ginko bilobus and he'll have a chance!

b's floods of numbers were impressive in an autistic sort of way, but i think the public is tired of being power-pointed into thinking the country can be run like a bigger 'mediaset', while the 'carovita' (cost of living) is patently ever higher as reflected in their bills and food prices.

biggest problem for prodi if he wins?

how to stop the different factions of the unione from wasting energy and authority with internecine squabbling, and harness the will to go forward without replaying the old pattern of italian politics, where people yell and scream, and the same-old cr** goes on as ever, corruption, inefficiency, half-baked ideas, and a terrible habit of churning out decrees to add to the insane mountain of laws italy is already overburdened with.

rumour has it that the average number of laws in a european country is 6-9000, while italy has over 350,000!

de gondi, do you know this to be true?

berlusconi tried all his favourite tactics, but they need his own fawning tv stations to work 'properly', and his petulance and disregard for the rules made him appear immature and 'prepotente' (arrogant).

most disturbing was the lack of any questions about world energy, and italy's woeful tardiness in working to make alternative sustainable power a reality here, as germany and spain 'steam' ahead.

apart from one quick question about iraq, all the debate was about domestic issues.

i know one's mess at home is always a priority, but this lack of discussion about the big wide world beyond italy's borders seemed parochial and self-obsessed.

thanks for a great summary, de gondi, it captured the essences of the two protagonists perfectly.

hopefully hannah will chime in...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 12:09:25 AM EST
Thanks very much for the follow-up. Italy has far too many laws but I'm not sure it's 350,000. I think it's about half that but still far too many.

They did talk about Iran. It was the only question B answered within the time limit.

Alternative energy sources is part of the Union program.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 01:46:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry to sound "clintonesque", but it depends on the meaning you give to the word "law".
The Italian judicial system, similarly to the French one, requires precise description of everything, as the discretionary power of judges and weight of previous judicial decisions are very low. This is, believe it or not, partially a side-effect of being a "revolutionary" state... Mussolini squandered any credibility an "italian tradition" might have left. It was also an effect of the oldest judicial system on earth... we had proper judges and juries in Rome when other countries were still ruled by tribal law.
by toyg (g.lacava@gmail.com) on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 04:46:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
rumour has it that the average number of laws in a european country is 6-9000, while italy has over 350,000!
You know? People (including me) made a whole lot of fun of Minnessota when they elected Jesse Ventura (a former pro westler) governor, but the guy was anything but a dimwit. One of his best proposals was that the legislature should spend one year out of every 4 pruning away outdated or unnecessary laws instead of writing new ones.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 05:11:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
it would take a hercules....

them stables sure could use a good sweep.

i agree being a wrestler is an excellent qualification.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Mar 16th, 2006 at 07:29:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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