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Can a Berlusconi "happen" in the U.S.?

Can a Berlusconi "happen" in the U.S.?

Dom Serafini (December 2, 2011)

It would take a combination of several “American Berlusconis” to make one Italian Berlusconi.


By  Dom Serafini. Could a Silvio Berlusconi emerge in the U.S.? Let’s see what kind of ingredients the media mogul and former Italian prime minister puts on the table and then explore potential U.S. doppelgangers.

Incredible wealth. Many Americans fit the mold. With a $9 billion net worth, Berlusconi used small ROI amounts to finance political alliances and media courtesans. New York City media mogul and Mayor Michael Bloomberg (net worth $19 billion) spent $108 million of his own money to get re-elected for the third time after changing New York City’s term-limits law.

Full control over media, both print and electronic. It’s difficult to achieve this in the U.S., but it’s doable. As seen in the Iraq War, the U.S. press can be kept at bay. In Italy, Berlusconi directly controlled the private TV sector and, indirectly, the state radio-TV organization. In addition, he had direct control over the country’s largest book publisher and the largest number of newspapers. Indirectly, he controlled small newspapers that depended on state subsidies to survive. He also controlled film and TV production and distribution both directly and indirectly. Plus, Berlusconi manipulated news and used the media as a personal mouthpiece. Some of his journalists were in charge of fabricating news. Of the major news organizations in the U.S., only FOX News has been associated with systematic news fabrication.

Power over a political majority in both houses of Parliament. Surely doable in the U.S. as

demonstrated by the unlimited corporate contributions to political campaigns and the emergence of the “Super Pacs.”

Ability to present untruths as facts. Definitely possible in the U.S. and the best example comes from former President George W. Bush’s fabrication of Iraq’s WMDs.

Subjugate state institutions. Through patronage Berlusconi controlled Italian regulatory authorities and parts of the judicial system. As seen with the U.S. Supreme Court during the 2000 presidential election, in the U.S., ideology can also take over the democratic process. Plus, in the U.S., regulatory agencies are often rendered ineffectual.

Populist views and a charismatic personality that overshadow other flaws. Easily found in the U.S.: From the late President Ronald Reagan to presidential candidates Sarah Palin, Herman Cain and Rick Perry, just to cite a few.

Disdain toward leaders of other countries. This characteristic made Berlusconi disliked particularly by Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and even by U.S. President Barack Obama. Similarly, Bush was disliked by many foreign leaders.

Abuse of power. Berlusconi requested that an underage prostitute he frequented be released from police custody. He appointed reputed past lovers to key government and parliamentary positions and rewarded favors with state-owned company contracts. In the U.S., abuse of power has been mainly confined to the presidency of Bush (e.g., wiretapping, political spying, abuse of the Patriot Act, etc.).

Sex scandals. Berlusconi has been associated with prostitutes and sex for tat. In the U.S., Herman Cain’s presidential campaign donations actually increased after revelations about his four sexual harassment cases, which are topped by the 29 women who accused former Senator Bob Packwood of sexual harassment. But the best examples are the late President John Kennedy (revelations were made post mortem) and former President Bill Clinton.

Blatant conflicts of interest. In the U.S. it’s resolved with blind trusts, like in the case of NYC Mayor Bloomberg and the late President Lyndon Johnson’s media empire. However, there is the case of Dick Cheney, who retained 433,333 stock options from when he was CEO of Halliburton while serving as Vice President to Bush. Halliburton received over $20 billion for work in Iraq (some with no-bid contracts) and Cheney’s private hunting trip with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Criminal investigations. Berlusconi has been accused of corruption, bribery, embezzlement, Mafia collusion and tax evasion, among other crimes. In the U.S., the late Vice President Spiro Agnew was charged with bribery and corruption. Since 2000, nine members of Congress have been charged with crimes. Similarly, among Berlusconi’s members of Parliament, five have been accused of Mafia connections and four of corruption. Plus, 49 have been investigated and two ministers resigned under investigation.

Ineffectual. In his eight years as prime minister, Berlusconi took Italy’s national debt from $1,900 billion to $2,600 billion. Likewise, in eight years, Bush increased the federal debt from $5,769 billion to $10,413 billion.

In conclusion, a Berlusconi-esque character could definitely spring up in the U.S. However, it would take a combination of several “American Berlusconis” to make one Italian Berlusconi.





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