Berlusconi, who has a history of controversial remarks, said the relative youth of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, 43, and Obama, 47, should make it easier for Moscow and Washington to work together.Berlusconi is getting a lot of criticism in Italy. He's embarrassing. In America, do we care about "tan" jokes? I note that the WaPo fashion columnist Robin Givhan wrote, about Michelle Obama: "[T]he implied message is unmistakable: I am neither subversive nor threatening. I am not some scary 'other.' I am Camelot with a tan." Givhan is herself African American, which gives her more leeway, and she's imagining someone else's implied statement.
Then, smiling, he said through an interpreter, "I told the president that [Obama] has everything needed in order to reach deals with him: He's young, handsome and even tanned."...
Berlusconi, 72, later defended the remark, calling it "a great compliment. . . . If they have the vice of not having a sense of humor, worse for them"....
Berlusconi said the remark was meant to be "cute" and he lashed out at those who disagreed, calling them "imbeciles, of which there are too many."
Stepping back from the focus on calling a black person "tanned," we should see that Berlusconi was making a sexual joke. To say Obama can make deals because "He's young, handsome and even tanned" is to say that he can be seductive, and Berlusconi was picturing a "deal" between Obama and Medvedev. Medvedev, who was standing right there -- and not reacting -- looks like this:
So, you get the picture of what Berlusconi thinks is "cute." (How do you say "cute" in Italian?)
As for Ahmadinejad, who is decidedly not cute:
“I congratulate you for attracting the majority of votes in the election,” Mr. Ahmadinejad wrote in his message, an Iranian news agency, ISNA, reported. “As you know, opportunities that are bestowed upon humans are short lived,” he wrote, adding that he hoped Mr. Obama would make the most of the opportunity....Short lived, eh?
“People in the world expect war-oriented policies, occupation, bullying, deception and intimidation of nations and imposing discriminatory policies on them and international affairs, which have evoked hatred toward American leaders, to be replaced by ones advocating justice, respect for human rights, friendship and noninterference in other countries’ affairs"...
ADDED: Italy is in a tizzy:
Many Italian newspapers gave the comment nearly as much front-page attention as Mr. Obama’s victory itself. The journalist Curzio Maltese wrote in the center-left La Repubblica that “bookmakers wouldn’t even take bets” on how long it would take for Mr. Berlusconi to let slip another of his famous gaffes. “Mr. Berlusconi never fails to live up to our worst expectations.”
Mr. Maltese added that just when Mr. Obama’s victory was “inspiring billions of people” to consider “democracy, the most extraordinary triumph of humanity after centuries of bloodshed and intolerance,” Mr. Berlusconi instead contributed “a miserable, vulgar and racist remark, for which he didn’t even have the courage to take responsibility or the dignity to apologize.”
A billionaire populist, Mr. Berlusconi excels at deflating such lofty talk. He said that his remark had been “a compliment” and that his critics lacked irony. “If you want to get a degree in idiocy, I won’t stop you,” La Repubblica quoted him as saying. “I say whatever I think.”