An Italian-Style Obama on the Political Trail (da


Pubblicato sul New York Times il 9 Novembre 2012

VERBANIA, ITALY — For nearly eight weeks, Matteo Renzi, the 37-year-old mayor of Florence, has flitted about Italy in a white camper, delivering rousing speeches with a bit of American-style campaigning as he competes in a primary vote this month that will decide who will lead Italy’s center-left Democratic Party in national elections next year.

His campaign slogan “Adesso,” or “Now,” seems borrowed from the Obama handbook, his campaign colors are the same as the American flag, and he makes a point of addressing crowds, microphone in hand, in a jacketless, chummy manner that is a vivid contrast to Italy’s more declamatory tradition.

But it is not just Mr. Renzi’s youthful campaign style that is stirring up his party — and by extension, Italian politics. It is his message for “Rottamazione” — which translates literally as scrapping, and is most often used when consigning a car to the junk heap.

That, Mr. Renzi proclaims, is what he would like to do the political class that led Italy into its economic morass, while rejuvenating his own party, which now has its strongest chance in next April’s national election since it last won in 2006, given the disarray that has beset the conservative party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Mr. Renzi’s message means to reach out especially to disaffected young people and it has tapped a widespread feeling of contempt for a political class perceived more than ever as a corrupt, overprivileged and out of touch with the needs of a nation struggling through severe recession.

But it has also offended the traditions of many in the Italian left, which he is challenging to revamp itself and move toward the models of “Blair, Clinton and Obama,” as he put it in a recent interview in his office at Florence city hall. “I am a Democrat,” he said proudly.

That may be so. But the prospect that Mr. Renzi could win the primary has raised deep concerns among many in his Democratic Party that he would radically shift its core values firmly to the center. For a party that is the largest remaining heir to Italy’s once influential Communist Party, such a move would be tantamount to identity theft — and, many in the party concede, runs the risk of opening an irreparable rift within its ranks.

But Mr. Renzi argues it is a necessary step to save a party that he sees as having grown rigid and ossified and seen its influence wane in an Italian political landscape that has been reshaped by two decades of domination by Mr. Berlusconi and his conservatives.

“His action is one of renewal not from within the party but despite the party,” said Diego Bianchi, a center-left political blogger, and one of several to note that Mr. Renzi has remained on the outskirts of the Democratic Party machine rather than take part in internal issues.

“He has personalized the notion of leadership in a very showy way,” he added. “He gives off the sensation that he has his own story at heart, and that he has little to do with the history of the left.”

That impulse is shaking up the usual battle lines of Italian politics, and Mr. Renzi has unsettled things even further by appealing to Mr. Berlusconi’s disillusioned voters to turn to the left in the next elections. Many in his own Democratic Party view the growing list of endorsements for Mr. Renzi from card-carrying conservatives with growing suspicion.

But supporters say that Mr. Renzi is attempting to open up new, less ideological, horizons at a moment of new fluidity in Italian politics. “The exit of Berlusconi frees up an river of centrist electors, and I think our party should reflect on this, especially in the north,” said Antonio Funiciello, a Democratic Party supporter of the Florentine mayor. “This clutching onto the old certainties of the left, closes us off toward electors that could be open to a new government project.

“It’s a high risk move, but with a high return,” he added.

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