After Silvio Berlusconi's 2 hour tour de force of a performance on Thursday evening in which, at one point, over one quarter of Italian adults were watching the former prime minister knocking back his accusers and interlocutors with a glorious panache (we're not discussing levels of truth here, truth is tricky anyway) comrade Bersani has refused to meet Berlusca in television debate.
Bersani's slowness of speech, a measure of his slowness of thought, has been well-noted. He prefaces every proposal and response with time-wasters: "in my opinion...here I would be prepared to argue...." etc., and spices up the boredom with basic level, home-spun rhetoric, busy busy "brushing dirt under the carpet..." (honestly it's that bad). The over-all slowness is embodied (literally) in his elderly gait, his drooping back, his hands (both of them) being carried in his pockets at all times as if his arms are too heavy to bear; the interminable swing of his head before he speaks - down, than shaking in negation, then the empty phrases. He's a nightmare of facial rigidity, lips pursed thin, unsmiling except with a brownian grimace that positively unnerves. Matteo Renzi was grace - intellectual, verbal and physical - personified in his last tv confrontation.
Bersani has only ever held minor political office. He was a minister of industry in one of the Prodi governments and introduced less regulation among taxi-drivers and chemists. That's it: all he has ever done. He dare not face the man who has dominated Italian politics for the last 20 years. His excuse? Bersani's spokesperson announces that Bersani will only debate on television (and doubtless anywhere else for that matter until Parliament reconvenes) with Candidate Prime Ministers.
There is no such role in Italian politics. It was revived from the socialist graveyard by Bersani's politburo to be conferred on him and to end any challenge from within the Democratic party coalition to his wooden presence being transferred from Secretary of his faction-dominated party to prime ministership of the country. Berlusconi's coalition has announced already that their nominee for prime minister will be chosen after the general elections at the end of February. Not unreasonably they wish to look at the composition of returned members in the lower and upper Houses. The Democratic party dare not do this. If the former Communist party is finally to gain the premiership they must exclude all other Democratic party contenders. They must constrain the President of the Republic's choice of calling on the lower House majority member most likely to command a bi-cameral majority.
Most of all Bersani must find an excuse, any excuse, not to debate his political superior in the nation's sitting rooms and kitchens. We all enjoyed Mr Berlusconi's performance enormously against skilled and knowledgeably intelligent interviewers. We want to watch another combat in the television arena.
Prime Minister Monti has accepted an invitation to a television debate with all other major party leaders.