Since I live in Italy and follow mani puliti obsessively, I should have the edge on this one.
There are many precedents for this -- but the one I've been thinking about lately is Italian, not American. In the early 1990s, a group of magistrates (a position combining some of the functions of both prosecutors and judges) in Milan began digging into the twin dung heaps of criminality that were the Italian political system and the Italian corporate establishment. They, and their campaign, quickly became known as the "Clean Hands," both because of their reputation for incorruptibility and their independence from the patronage machines of the ruling political parties.
Still I find his analysis absolutely excellent. He is right, the magistratura was the only group in Italy not co-opted by the Christian Democrat, Socialist 3 little parties machine. They had a huge impact and, in the end, everything was worse with even more blatantly corrupt crooks in power. The center left had a chance and blew it by being responsible on policy (note the absence of scare quotes) and too gentle with the right in opposition.
I can find no cure for Billmon's pessimism. In fact my main correction of the recorn should make him even more pessimistic. Billmon wrote of the failure of the center left parliament (1996-2001 with only 3 different prime ministers)
Even under the best of circumstances, the coalition would have faced a rough road. Italy was committed to a program of massive fiscal consolidation, labor market reform and privatization as part of its bid to qualify for European Monetary Union. The program wasn't popular -- even though the euro was -- and slow growth and rising unemployment quickly eroded the coalition's su
Billmon's description of public perception and political outcomes is exactly right, however, unemployment did not rise. from 1973 until about 1998 Italy managed the to achieve an amazing record on employment rather worse that Hoover and Bush combined, since the number of jobs remained roughly the same (not counting the underground economy which must have grown). Following the pro market reforms of the center left d'Alema government (an ex communist free to act after the still communists had left the government as explained by Billmon) employment suddenly started to grow.
When elected in 1994 Berlusconi had promised that, under him, one million jobs would be created. Even scaling for population this would be a miserable performance by US standards, but it was universally agreed that this was an absurd promise (especially as Berlusconi gave no explanation as to how he would achieve this miracle). In fact employment fell sharply during the first Berlusconi government.
In the years of center left staggering on after the communists bailed out, Italian employment increased by more than one million. Giuliano Amato (successor of d'Alema) noted that employment had increased by more than one million. Berlusconi said that Amato was stealing his idea. I'm not sure the English language contains words capable of describing Dr Sir Berlusconi.
In spite of this absolutely astonishing accomplishment of the center left, the right won the elections in 2001 (remined me of 2000 in the USA). Even though the other guys destroy themselves twice and the center right was incredibly lucky, they still lost. Grounds for hope ? ...
Dr Antonello Solinas MD once said "to lose always hurts but to lose to those buffoons is really humiliating." I quote him several times a week.
I have other disagreements with Billmon. He says the socialists were almost as corrupt as the christian democrats. Most Italians think that they managed the almost incredible accomplishment of surpassing the christian democrats in corruption. Also I think that Berlusconi has not completed his takeover of RCS which owns il Corriere.