One of the most ignorant and gratingly common complaints about American politics is that of their being bland, uninteresting, and failing to engage large segments of the population.
To anybody who would say such a thing, it’s worth asking, “What do you actually want from politics?” Naturally, people who see political engagement as a sign of civic virtue and who believe that more choices in a democracy (regardless of what those choices are) are always a good thing are likely to respond with stale bromides about…political engagement being a sign of civic virtue and more choices in a democracy being a good thing.
Thus, real-world examples of very interesting politics can act as a better defense of America’s gloriously dull — by world standards — politics. Take your pick: Kenya, Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq. Say what you will about any of these countries, you can’t call their politics dull!
However, politics being “interesting” isn’t always bad. There is a bad kind of dullness to American politics that comes from the excessive reverence often accorded to American politicians. (I wonder how many American reporters who must endure covering the stuffy U.S. Senate envy their British counterparts who cover the boisterous House of Commons.)
For that reason, it’s refreshing to see interesting politics of the good kind — that of politics playing out as a spectacle in which the politicians act like buffoons, with the end result that any person with common sense would be embarrassed to show reverence to them. Which brings me to Italy.
Britain’s Observer reports today on a feud between Italian rightist candidate Daniela SantanchÃ¨ and Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of Il Duce, who has entered politics herself.
SantanchÃ¨, 46, a former ally of Berlusconi, is now heading a small party called The Right. In a week in which she descended on a Gypsy camp near Milan, wearing high heels and an elegant trouser suit to argue with residents and slam illegal immigration, SantanchÃ¨ also found time to warn women not to vote for Berlusconi, ‘since he only sees us in the horizontal’. The media mogul had done little to suggest otherwise, claiming the previous week that he would not be sending TV showgirls into parliament this year, ‘because with them we do other things’.
Quick to defend Berlusconi from charges of sexism was Mussolini, 45, whose career path has taken her from an actress who posed topless to pop singer to a European MP who casts herself as the tough-talking housewife of Italian politics, once claiming ‘better a fascist than a faggot’. Calling Berlusconi ‘gallant’, Mussolini spat back that SantanchÃ¨ was ‘horizontal, politically’, after clawing her way into politics thanks to the backing of Gianfranco Fini, who has renounced his neo-Fascist roots and joined the Berlusconi ticket.
The response was minutes away. ‘I believe Alessandra’s grandfather Benito is turning in his grave at the sight of her working as an assistant to (Fini), who said Fascism was the absolute evil,’ said SantanchÃ¨. ‘Berlusconi on the other hand would probably like to wear Mussolini’s boots; after all, he wears lifts in his shoes already,’ she added caustically.
‘Benito came to me in a dream last night,’ replied Alessandra, as the row dominated the news, ‘and he told me exactly what he thinks of SantanchÃ¨.’
Of course, I’m glad these people have no chance of ever having political power in the United States, but at least their fight is being waged with words and not violence. Still, even with the deserved ridicule such behavior would earn politicians here, I’ll take the kind of politics which most people can easily ignore any day. When political contests are dull, your property, freedom, or even very life don’t depend on the outcome.
May those who complain about America’s dull politics live in interesting times. (Thanks to Margaret Griffis for the Observer link.)