A Political Showdown

It was an eventful week in politics.  A government in crisis, on the verge of collapse.  Leaders refusing to compromise, standing firm in their positions.  With pressure mounting and tension flaring, would they take the country over the brink, or would the looming consequences give way to a change in course?

Boehner vs Obama in a showdown over a government shutdown?

No, I’m talking about Enrico Letta, Italian Prime Minister, vs Silvio Berlusconi, the former PM and current senator, in a fight to keep the current parliamentary governing coalition intact. 

To supposedly protest a VAT tax increase set to take effect on this past Tuesday, Berlusconi instructed several of the Cabinet Secretaries from his party to resign from the coalition government.  But convicted of tax fraud—a charge that under Italian law will strip him of his Senate seat—the billionaire media mogul acted as much out of desperation to shore up his waning political clout as he did out of any policy preference.  As planned, the resignations threw the government into turmoil and forced Letta to call a confidence vote that could collapse the current government.

In a stunning display of defiance, however, members of Berlusconi’s own party refused to go along with his plan.  After an impassioned speech from a typically dispassionate Letta, parliament voted in favor of the current coalition, averting political crisis that would have brought markets to a halt and cast storm clouds over an already gloomy economy.  

I don’t relate this story to celebrate what can actually happen when politicians put partisan concerns aside to do what was best for the country (although our current Congress could learn a lesson or two about that).  Instead, what was most interesting to me was that I learned about the crisis not by reading a story in an Italian daily or during a conversation at work, but rather when thumbing through the NY Times on my phone on the train to work.  In between stories of the impending government shutdown and the launch of healthcare exchanges in the US was a short article about the crisis in Italy, in Rome—the very city where I am living. 

In the roughly two months that I’ve been here, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to stay aware of events going on back home.  Reading the latest issue of the NY Times or breaking news from Buffalo take little more effort than the click of some computer keys or the refresh of an iPhone app.  Information is accessible, it’s up-to-date-, and quite importantly—it’s in English.

As connected as I am to life back home—to the broad contours of news stories at least—to some extent I feel somewhat removed from life here.  I shop at the local vegetable stands, buy meat from the butcher and cheese from the deli, and do most of the things that most Italians do.  But I don’t pick up the newspaper—the real newspaper, in Italian, in print—on my way to work.  And despite the current economic situation, I don’t go out of my way to learn about the issues and challenges facing the country, aside from whatever information is readily available in my American news publication of choice.  Blame it on the language barrier or on a lack of effort, without truly immersing myself in Italian new and politics, I feel as if my experience here will be somewhat incomplete.  I don’t want to learn about the next political crisis—and there will likely be others—in the pages of the NY Times.

It’s a challenge I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and one that I hope to overcome.  I’ll keep you posted.  


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