Whom do you prefer?’

Robert Nordvall
May 29, 2008

Obama or Illary?' I've lost count of how many times an Italian has asked me this question (with the wonderful silent H). Before John McCain sewed up the Republican nomination, I don't think I was asked once about whom I preferred in his party. Furthermore, I have no recollection of Italians asking me, during the presidential primary season 2004, whether I preferred Dean or Kerry.

 

Of course, Italy's interest in American politics in general is usually high. As the subprime mortgage crisis in the USA shows, problems that seem to be limited to the United States in fact spill over into European economies. Even beyond the economic sphere, the policies of the most powerful nation have implications throughout the world.

 

Yet this year the interest of Italians in the American presidential race goes beyond the typical level. Why?

 

In a country whose politics is particularly geriatric (for example, the last two national leaders, Berlusconi and Prodi were both born before the start of WWII, and many members of Parliament seem to stay there forever), Obama and Clinton look like a breath of fresh air. A word rarely used to describe Italian politics is ‘change'. Regardless of whether the next president is McCain, Clinton, or Obama, the politics in the USA will change. Even McCain, who favors staying the course in Iraq, will not be running on a platform of preserving the Bush legacy.

 

Although there must be Italians besides Silvio Berlusconi who think that George Bush has done a good job as president, you don't meet them very often. So change from the Bush years is particularly appealing here.

 

Italy is unusual among Western European nations in never having had a woman leader; nor has a woman led a major political party. Italy's percentage of women in Parliament is the lowest in Western Europe. Thus, the idea of a woman president in America piques the interest of Italians, especially since she is a woman they know through her years as the president's wife. The unpopularity of President Bush in Italy has its flip side in the generally high opinion Italians have of Bill Clinton. Clearly some of this rubs off on Hillary.

 

Italians know, too, the history of racism in the United States. So Obama's candidacy raises the fascinating question of whether this racism has now abated to the point that a black person can be elected president. One leading Italian politician, Gianfranco Fini, said he does not think that this is the case, but the fact that he would even comment on this point shows the high level of interest in the issue.

 

A recent letter to the editor in an Italian newspaper said, ‘In Italy, we need a candidate with the same characteristics of Obama, an honest and sincere person, who works for Italy and for Italians. I would surely vote for such a candidate'. If unsuccessful in getting the Democratic Party nomination or winning the general election in November, perhaps Obama or Hillary should come to Italy to start a new political career.

 

A recent example of American election fever in Florence: ‘Bridges for Obama-Yes We Span', which took place on the Ponte Vecchio on May 6, 2008.

We welcome contact from Republicans living in Florence or around Italy that would like to share their events and stories with us!

 

 

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