Third person spells trouble in politicians

By Paul Taylor
October 8, 2009

nixonOUKTP-UK-ITALY-BERLUSCONIBeware of politicians who speak about themselves in the third person. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are paranoid. But it is usually an indicator of some kind of trouble.

More than a decade before he was forced out of the White House for lying, destroying evidence, bugging his political opponents and covering up a crime in the Watergate affair, Richard Nixon (right) famously told journalists at what he said was his last press conference: “You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more.”

Now Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (left) has taken to referring to himself in the third person as the victim of left-wing judges and the media (at least the parts of it that he doesn’t own or control). His response to the Italian Constitutional Court’s ruling on Wednesday overturning a law that granted the prime minister immunity from prosecution during his term in office was to declare:

Without Silvio, the country would be in the hands of the left and you all know what would happen. The trials that they are going to throw against me are a farce. Long live Italy! Long live Berlusconi! 

What do the two have in common? Clearly a belief that they are victims of persecution, and perhaps also a sense that power exists to be used implacably against enemies.

Berlusconi, a billionaire media magnate and soccer club owner, also has a lot in common with Bernard Tapie, a self-made French businessman who owned Olympique Marseille when they beat Berlusconi’s AC Milan to become European champions in 1993. Tapie was briefly made a minister under Socialist President Francois Mitterrand before being sent to prison for fraud and match-fixing. He too talked of himself frequently in the third person, making comments such as “They want to destroy Tapie”.

In some cases, politicians may be indicating a loss of reality by referring to themselves in the third person. In his final months as president of the crumbling Soviet Union, as power ebbed from his office, Mikhail Gorbachev took to calling himself “Gorbachev” in interviews and speeches. Although he enjoyed international acclaim for loosening Moscow’s iron grip on eastern Europe and Soviet society, he too came to feel that he was a victim of enemies both among hardline Communists and nationalists who wanted to destroy him politically.

What made Gorbachev different was that he chose to let history take its course rather than clinging to power.  That is why he is making adverts for Louis Vuitton luxury bags nowadays and being lauded on the global lecture circuit, rather than still scheming to keep control in the Kremlin.

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