Could Veronica really fell Berlusconi?

It seems unthinkable that Il Cavaliere – as Berlusconi is both endearingly and condescendingly known – could actually be damaged by the cutting words of his wife, Veronica. This story has, of course, been rolling for a good few weeks: Veronica, accusing her husband of consorting with minors, says she wants a divorce.

When the story first broke, my own wife, who is Italian, suggested that this could cause serious problems. I must confess to pooh-poohing this notion. After all, here was a man who seemed totally impervious to international criticism, to accusations of corruption and embezzlement and to the rather obvious observation that, due to his many vested interests, he is not the best man to lead Italy. How on Earth could his wife thing to dent his reputation?

Of course, this kind of thing has happened before, in the history of politics. Take Bill Clinton, former president of America. He was doing fine and dandy, happily bombing the occasional rogue state in Africa (Sudan, Somalia), until that brat of a child Monica Lewinski came along and started making all sorts of lewd accusations. There is very good reason to presume that Clinton was up to a lot of naughty stuff that went way beyond the bedroom, but never actually got much air coverage – a relative of mine wrote a good book about this. But the American public turned a blind eye to all this, until he got mixed up with Lewinski. For many, what finished Clinton was the fact that he lied in court. But for others it was simply the fact that he had showed so little respect for his marriage vows.

The American public had ignored what might have been a good reason for impeachment – more than one commentator likened his antics to those of Richard “Tricky Dicky” Nixon – and focused instead on the sex thing.

Just as this whole Berlusconi/Veronica scandal will just not go away, and is proving an immense headache for Il Cavaliere. Clinton did not do anything illegal when he had a sexual relationship with Lewinski, until he lied in court; it is not illegal in America, of course, for a man to be unfaithful to his wife. Just as Berlusconi cannot be accused of doing anything illegal if it is proven that he had a relationship with 18 year old model Noemi Letizia, as some thing he did; the age of consent being, in Italy, 14.

It is extremely difficult to ascertain how damaging this incident has been for the Prime Minister. People I have spoken to on the street – even those that seem to genuinely admire Berlusconi – are pretty horrified about the way he has behaved. And yet, when you read much of the coverage of the story (Italian and foreign), the implication seems to be that the incident has damaged Berlusconi very little and that he remains as popular as ever. Of course, one might counter this with the argument that most of the mainstream media in Italy is controlled (directly or indirectly) by Berlusconi. Even the leftwing La Republica often seems to tow the political line more than it perhaps should do, although, in the Veronica/Berlusconi story, it has really sunk its teeth in and will not let go: possibly because it was the newspaper to have broken it.

But it would say a lot about the shallowness of a nation should Berlusconi be irreparably damaged by accusations of infidelity, whilst he has successfully rewritten Italy’s law to stave off corruption charges and accusations that he has mafia connections.

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