I have to say this is a remarkable crowd; I will confess that at first I was a little nervous about this dinner. After all, Matteo is called “Il rottamatore”: “the scrapper.” “The demolition man.” And Roberto Benigni is here and he promised not to jump on the tables.
Ask any Italian or Italian-american and they will tell you that the dinners can get somewhat animated, people can get excited, especially if your grandmother thinks you’re not eating enough. So Michelle and I decided to just think of this as a typical Italian Sunday dinner, surrounded by family and great friends, by paesans and pasta.
But tonight we’re reminded that American Democracy has been embraced by the touch of Italy. Our declaration that all men are created equal was penned by Thomas Jefferson and it was a concept shared by his friend also from Florence, Firenze, Filippo Mazzei. We stand before the Lincoln Memorial and see the work of the Piccirilli Brothers. We look at the dome of the U.S. Capitol and marvel at the touch of Brumidi. Then again, some days our presidential campaign can seem like Dante’s “Inferno.”
But most of all we see the spirit of Italy in the friendships between our people in so many proud Italian Americans. I suspect that many of you here tonight are thinking of your own families, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents who left the old country, who toiled and sacrificed, and gave everything they had so that the next generation could succeed. Your presence here tonight shows that America’s a place where if you work hard, no matter what you look like, what your last name is, how many vowels you have in your name, you can make it if you try. Even if we are not Italian American, or Mets fans, we can celebrate that Mike Piazza is finally in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I also want to take this occasion to once again thank my great friend Matteo. He may be the youngest prime minister in modern Italian history, he makes me feel old, which is unfortunate, when I came in I was the young guy, now he’s the young guy, but from the first time we met, I could see that he represented the energy and the optimism, the vision and the values that can carry Italy and Europe forward. He is as you say in Italy “buona come il pane.”
Matteo, I cannot thank you enough for your excellent partnership as we’ve worked to advance the security and prosperity of our citizens and the dignity of people around the world. I understand that when you were growing up your mother would tell you stories about Robert Kennedy’s commitment to justice and she would end by telling you “Matteo, fight.” And as you fight for the cause of reform, know that we stand with you. I believe that Italy and the world will continue to benefit from your leadership for many years to come.
Now one of the reasons I’m so confident that Matteo will continue to make outstanding contributions is because he has an outstanding partner in Agnese. Our wives keep us humble. As out Italian friends know, Matteo’s first claim to fame, when he was just 19 years old, was he was on Italy’s version of “Wheel of Fortune.” This is a true story. And, Agnese points out that several of the sweaters and the suits that he wore were too big, which is an affront to Italian fashion. Matteo may deny it, but there’s video and you can judge for yourself. Giorgio Armani is here and he would be ashamed to know that the Italian prime minster used to wear things like this.
Now, you are not alone because when Michelle was in Milan for last year’s expo, she spoke with some young people about the importance of eating slowly and savoring your food unlike President Obama, who she said sometimes shovels his food down. Which is true. So the point is that Matteo and I have both married up and because of our wives we eat better, we dress better, we are better, and we thank you both.
In closing, I just want to reminisce about my last visit to Rome. Thanks to Matteo’s ministry of culture, I had the opportunity to visit the Coliseum. And one of the perks of being President is you can go to the Coliseum and nobody else is there. It was late in the day. It was quiet. The sun was going down. As I walked across those ancient stones worn by the history of 2,000 years, it was a humbling reminder of our place here on earth. In the grand sweep of time, each of us is here only for a brief moment. So many of the things that we focus on each day — political ups and downs, successes and the setbacks — those things are fleeting. What matters in the end is what we built. What matters is what we leave behind. Things that will endure long after we are gone.
As the poet Virgil reminded us: “Fortune favors the bold.” So I want to propose a toast to the enduring alliance between the United States and Italy, to our friends Matteo and Agnese, to the friendship between the Americans and the Italians, in pursuit of the world that we can build for future generations. May we always be bold, may fortune smile upon us. Salute. Cheers.