The Atlantic today published my interview with Silvio Berlusconi. I met him at his Roman apartment in Rome on January 27 at the end of a month I spent as a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome. Berlusconi is above all else a terrific salesman, complex, disarming and dangerous. For all he may have done in his life – and he’s done a lot both good and bad – he was one of the most entertaining politicians I’ve ever met, both proud and self-effacing, ready to mock himself and then in the next breath to make extraordinary boasts and provide convoluted explanations for his licentious behavior. He was arrogant but not at all pompous. And he clearly still regards most other politicians as beneath his contempt. I was warned beforehand by many Italians that I might end up liking him – and I fear I fell into his trap.
Here’s a man who knows the whole world considers him an inveterate rake and sleaze bag, and he tells me: “I’m not a Playboy. I’m a Playman,” and that the only thing no one has ever accused him of is “being gay”. Not that he has anything against gays, of course. Quite the opposite. “The more gays, the less competition.” There is a recklessness to Berlusconi which enlivens Europe’s otherwise dreary political class and has appealed for years to millions of Italian voters.
How many Eurocrats, after all, write Neapolitan love songs in their spare time? This is Mariano Apicella singing Meglio ‘Na Canzone – lyrics by S. Berlusconi.