Not for the time being

April 13, 2006

What's with the dead heats? First Florida, then Germany, now Italy. States and countries are splitting right down the middle in elections. It may be the result of ever more sophisticated and defensive electioneering by political professionals, but the odd result is that even as the arm-wrestling between opposing parties intensifies, with each seeking the slightest advantage, voters become more and more jaded. In the United States, they tend to stay home on Election Day; in Europe, they still vote, perhaps out of habit, but without much expectation that anything will get better.

By the slimmest of margins, Italy's Romano Prodi, a dull left-of-center former prime minister, appears to have edged out Silvio Berlusconi, the loose-cannon current prime minister, but he hardly has a mandate to address Italy's economic woes in any dramatic fashion. It's almost as if the voters wanted it that way.

If murkiness and inaction are the best that can be hoped for in politics, it's no wonder that Italians were happily distracted Wednesday by the capture of Bernardo Provenzano, the Mafia boss of all bosses, outside the Sicilian village of Corleone. The cops were tipped off by a delivery of laundry to a remote farmhouse. Abruptly and unambiguously, this ended a 43-year standoff between him and the authorities, which proves that not every deadlock is eternal.

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