“There are a lot of pretty girls about. I’m no saint, but you know that”
Days after tapes emerged of Silvio Berlusconi allegedly telling an escort girl to “wait by the big bed”, he has finally broken his silence.
The Italian Prime Minister told a group of business leaders in Northern Italy what most of them probably do already know to be fair. The question is, does it matter?
The Italian press is roundly quoting this piece from Times columnist Daniel Finkelstein. He argues that character does matter very much in a politician, and that’s why all of us should be concerned about Berlusconi’s antics.
(He also gives a very long example of Mao Zedong’s character flaws which is what most Italian press has picked up on.)
Finkelstein argues that the allegations of escort girls attending parties at Berlusconi’s villa, his tendency to put pretty, inexperienced women forward for political positions, and his ex-wife’s allegations that he ‘consorts with minors’ are all very serious distractions for someone entrusted with not only his state secrets, but also privileged security information of his allies.
How much does character, personality traits like arrogance, humour, a fondness for partners other than your spouse, matter in a politician?
Bill Clinton argued during his primary season that allegations of an affair were a matter for he and Hillary only. But if politicians are prepared to take risks that most people would consider unacceptable in their private lives, could that impact on their public lives too?
When South Africa’s now-president Jacob Zuma admitted to having unprotected sex with a woman he knew to be HIV positive, critics said it showed he could not be trusted to run the country. That same country elected him president not long afterwards, ignoring also the corruption allegations that he was charged with.
It’s only this week that Silvio Berlusconi’s personal approval ratings have slipped below 50% in Italy, despite months of lurid allegations.
Are we more likely to forgive character flaws in a politician if they’re a viewed as a charming rogue? Is it only male politicians who get that privilege?