A week ago, at the end of a nine day trip to Italy, I waded through a vast protest in against Prime Minister Berlusconi. At a reception that evening, an Italian former student explained that, after Berlusconi’s minions missed the filing deadlines for regional elections, he simply had a law passed to change the rules. For my former student and millions of Italians, this was the final straw. Many of the protestors carried signs saying “Basta”—that is, Enough.
I first heard about the “deem and pass” strategy the Democrats were originally planning to use to pass healthcare the next day, when I returned to the U.S. I couldn’t help but think of the similarities between President Obama’s willingness to cut procedural corners and Berlusconi’s. Overall, the differences between the two are far more pronounced than the similarities. Through his control of many of the main television stations and newspapers and through threats to others, Berlusconi has largely stifled the Italian media. In the U.S., the media is much more wide open. In addition, Berlusconi’s battle seems entirely personal at this point—an effort to cling to power—whereas Obama is fighting for a reform he campaigned on and is obviously committed to.
But here, as in Italy, assuming that citizens will overlook procedural manipulations because of an underlying confidence in their leader is a dangerous strategy. It may work once, but even considering these kinds of tactics in the coming debates over financial reform and other legislative issues could have devastating consequences for Americans’ already shaky confidence in government.