Michelle Obama is 'suntanned'? Berlusconi's Top 5 gaffes

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called President Obama 'tanned' ... again. And this time he brought the First Lady Michelle Obama into it.

Charles Dharapak/AP/File
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama welcome Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as he arrives for the G-20 summit dinner in Pittsburgh, Sept. 24.

There he goes again.

That President-Obama-is-"tanned" line, apparently, doesn't get old for Italy's flamboyant, controverial Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

So, he trotted it out again, this time in reference to First Lady Michelle Obama.

At a rally on Sunday night Mr. Berlusconi said: "I have to bring you some greetings, greetings from a man, what is his name, what is his name – just a minute it was someone with a tan – ah, Barack Obama."

He then added: "You won't believe it, but they went together to the beach to get a tan because even his wife is suntanned."

If you're hearing crickets, you're not alone. But Mr. Berlusconi got a nice chuckle out of it, and so did his audience of cheering, smiling supporters. (video below)

Racist gaffe?

Italy's opposition, as usual, is making a stink. "He makes us look ridiculous before the whole world," said L'Unita the opposition newspaper in a front-page article, adding that the comment was "a racist gaffe." The left-leaning La Repubblica said it was a "reckless comment."

Berlusconi last year called Obama "young, handsome, and tanned," and the past few years are littered with his high-profile buffoonery (see Top 5 below), comments that are usually referred to as "gaffes" even though a gaffe (ask Vice President Joe Biden) usually implies that the guilty party actually made a mistake.

It's funny, you imbeciles!

Berlusconi, on the other hand, doesn't see any error in his ways. He said that center-left political opponents who called his first "tanned" comment racist, were"imbeciles without any sense of humor."


Many in Italy, and around the world, laugh it off.

But when does "Oh, that's just Silvio being Silvio" not cut it anymore? At what point do these type of statements do some serious damage to his standing on the world stage?

One British commentator thinks Berlusconi may have crossed a line this time.

"Insulting Michelle Obama as well as the US President may prove a step too far," writes Richard Owens in the London-based Times newspaper. "The buffoonish behaviour masks a more sinister reality: Mr Berlusconi clearly sees himself as a national and world leader of such importance that he is above the law. "

Without further ado, here's the Monitor's authoritative Top 5 Berlusconi gaffes. (Drumroll, please.)

5. On his first meeting with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen in 2002, Berlusconi complimented him with the words: "Rasmussen is not only a great colleague, he's also the best-looking prime minister in Europe." He added: "He's so good looking, I'm even thinking of introducing him to my wife."

4. In 2005, Berlusconi said he had wooed Finnish President Tarja Halonen to ensure her backing for Italy to host the European Food Safety Authority. "I had to use all my playboy tactics, even if they have not been used for some time," he said.

3. At a 2006 campaign rally, he said: "Read The Black Book of Communism and you will discover that in the China of Mao, they did not eat children, but had them boiled to fertilize the fields."

2. Berlusconi caused a political row at the start of Italy’s EU presidency by referring to a German member of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, who criticized him for his alleged links to the mafia, as a “concentration camp guard.”

He told the German: “I know that in Italy there is a man producing a film on Nazi concentration camps – I shall put you forward for the role of Kapo [a guard chosen from among the prisoners] – you would be perfect.”

1. Two days after Italy's biggest earthquake for thirty years made 17,000 people homeless this April, Berlusconi toured some of the tent sites around the town of L'Aquila and told German N-TV: "Of course their current lodgings are a bit temporary but they should see it like a weekend of camping."

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