"Confidantes" of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have begun floating the idea that the "disgraced" ex-leader is rested and ready to reclaim his old job. Never mind the fact that Berlusconi is still awaiting trial on charges of paying for sex with underage prostitutes and then using his office to try and cover it up. Never mind his career has been littered with accusations of corruption and abuse of power. Never mind the sex-crazed "bunga bunga" parties that make the 74-year-old billionaire seem less like a politician and more like an out-of-control media billionaire (which he also is.) Despite all of his faults, the members of Berlusconi's political party have been forced to admit that they don't have anyone better to lead them and that they believe he has plans to run again in 2013. Given Italy's troubles right now, he'll probably win, too.
Would that really be so crazy though? We put "disgraced" in quotation marks because obviously Berlusconi is not ashamed or apologetic about his behavior, and he isn't even waiting for the verdicts to come in before plotting his next move. Few politicians could survive such a legacy of sex and corruption, but he certainly wouldn't be the first to rebound from disgrace ... and he won't be the last. Here's are some of the more notable reputational comebacks from the annals of American statesmanship — and a couple that we can only assume are awaiting us down the road.
- Gary Hart: His political career ended in 1988 when in the midst of running for president and it was discovered he was having an extramarital affair. (And there were pictures to prove it.) Though he never held office again, he's since written several successful books, holds an endowed professorship at the University of Colorado, and has become a respected adviser on foreign policy and homeland security. He has even had his name floated as a possible Cabinet appointee. He regularly appears a cable new talking head to offer wise counsel with no mention of his former scandals.
- Marion Barry: He was the sitting mayor of Washington, DC, when FBI agents caught him doing crack cocaine on video tape. Convicted on drug changes and sent to federal prison for six months, Barry was released in 1992 ... and immediately won the next election for mayor. He later became a city councilman, where — despite probation violations, more failed drug tests, failing to file tax returns, corruption accusations, and arrests for drunk driving and "stalking" — he still serves today.
- Bill Clinton: A woman stepping forward in the middle of a primary to say she had a years-long affair with the Governor of Arkansas wasn't enough to keep him from becoming President. Admitting he had oral sex with an intern in the Oval Office wasn't enough to get him impeached. His wife is now Secretary of State, he's an elder statesman, and no one makes a move in Democratic politics without his ghost hanging over their shoulder. Actually, this probably shouldn't even count as a comeback since he never really went away.
Eliot Spitzer: The former Governor of New York resigned in his first year in office after admitting to having sex with prostitutes, but after writing for Slate has hosted two cable TV shows and is already being tipped as a possible next mayor of New York City.
- Anthony Weiner: In the DM Heard 'Round the World, the sitting Congressman was caught sending inappropriate photos to a woman on Twitter. (With a pregnant wife at home, by the way.) Yet, here we are just one year later and pundits are already laying out the case for his return to the spotlight. After all:, as one political guru put it: "A sex scandal without sex is like putting someone in prison for stealing Monopoly money.”
- John Edwards: Let's see: The man who was almost Vice President, cheated on his cancer-stricken wife with a woman being paid by his campaign, then had a baby with that mistress. After his trial for breaking campaign finance laws ended with a not-guilty verdict, he dumped the other woman (whose tell-all book is doing her no favors) and began his quiet journey back to respctability. Can he get there? This is still America, right?