Ministers past their prime

Posted: Sep 12, 2010 3:06 PM

“It’s funny because it’s true.” I’m not sure that this exactly amounts to a law of humor. Many things are funny and they aren’t true. And sometimes what’s allegedly funny as well as true is so ghastly that we, well, gasp rather than laugh.

Take the uncrowned heads of Russia and Italy, Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi. They get along extremely well, we’re told. “Cordial relations,” it is said. Apparently, Berlusconi exists on George W. Bush’s wavelength, looked into Putin’s soul, and saw something he liked. And still likes.

While hobnobbing together in Russia, the two prime ministers ruminated not only on their general busy-ness — “You wouldn’t believe it,” said the Italian, “I haven’t had a single day of holiday this year” — but also a number of issues on their various agendas. Berlusconi plans to finance an institute on aging research, to extend average lifespans to 120 years. His insiders in the project, he jested, assured him that “leaders would live much longer lives” yet.

And Putin is said to have quipped “So we will be prime ministers until at least the age of 120?”

Perish the thought.

I mean, really. Perish!

In countries without executive term limits, death serves as the final limit. The great equalizer.

Unfortunately, in Russia, the presidency is term limited, but not the prime minister position. Putin switched perches when term limits forced him out of the presidency. He obviously itches to rule without limit. Some say that he treats Dmitry Medvedev, the current president, as a handpuppet.

Indeed, there’s no small amount of whispered “dictator” talk in the land once ruled by tsars and commissars. By the Leader’s Nose, we don’t need a centenarian Putin ruling a revived Russian Empire.

Yes, yes; I know: It was only a joke.

But certain jokes pop into mind, as in a Freudian slip, on the basis of one’s personal obsessions. Maybe we should call this a “Machiavellian Slip.” After all, Putin is obsessed with power and not giving it up.

Berlusconi, thankfully, seems a tad more interested in taking some time off. “Living the good life,” Italian style, does not seem to mean, for him, working forever without holiday trying to “run” a country, his or anyone else’s.

Good for him.

But if he really wants to make a difference while basking in his accomplishments and honors, he needs to set up a term limits institute.

Then we would have reason to pat his future, wizened back, in appreciation.

And by “we” I mean citizens, not ambitious pols like Putin. Politicians deserve all the limits we can put upon them.