WHEN CROOKS GO...

WHEN CROOKS GO DOWN. This hasn't gotten much attention, but Silvio Berlusconi is refusing to admit defeat in the Italian election. In this, he has the support of seemingly none of the relevant legal institutions in Italy. What's more, all of the democratic world's left-of-center governments have already congratulated Romani Prodi on his victory. Then again, all of the democratic world's right-of-center governments have done so as well. All, that is, except for George W. Bush's here in the United States of America. This aligns Bush with Vladimir Putin's Russia and, well, nobody.

The subtext here, naturally, is Berlusconi's distinctive blend of public sector corruption, misgovernment, and low-grade gangsterism that puts his political machine somewhere between Putin's and Bush's on the spectrum of undermining democratic governance. During the 2000 election cycle, naturally, Al Gore didn't want to lose the election. Thus, he pushed his legal claims. But when the courts ruled against him, he stepped aside. After all, Gore wasn't relying on control of the state apparatus to keep a vast and probably illegal business empire intact. Nor was Gore relying on control of the state apparatus to keep himself out of jail. Berlusconi is doing both -- if he can't command Italian regulators and keep fiddling with statutes of limitations and public corruption laws, he's likely sunk. In this, of course, you see a resemblance to the modern day Republican Party. Subpoena power in the hands of the Democrats is likely to do, at a minimum, massive damage to the personal financial interests and ability to stay out of jail of a range of current and former officeholders and movers and shakers. Under the circumstances, the Bush-Berlusconi solidarity is no surprise.

--Matthew Yglesias

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