On September 19, I attended a political discussion on progressive politics in Europe and the United States. One of the participants in the discussion was Walter Veltroni, the leader of the Democratic Party in Italy. It was held in the Graduate Center of the City University of New York located in the former B. Altman department store, located at East 34 Street and Fifth Avenue, near the Empire State Building,
I was happy to see the lobby of the former store was landmarked. Although the building was converted for use as graduate center with music recital halls, a public library for financial and business information, and lectures halls, the former elegance of the building resonates for both the students and for the public. In many other parts of this country the building would have been lost and the use of public funds for the edification and education of the masses would have been considered not the proper role of government.
Veltroni would have been the prime minister of Italy if his party won the last election. He is a former mayor of Rome, a senator in the Italian parliament, an author of novels, a playwright, art critic, journalist, a university lecturer and articulate spokesman for progressive politics. His party is a collection of former left wing parties including the former Communist party and left wing Christian parties. The former Communist party was a party with considerable public support often winning thirty five percent of the vote. Veltroni was influenced by American politics and was an admirer of Robert Kennedy and wrote a book about the former senator. He is friendly with Edward Kennedy and Barack Obama. He attended the Democratic Convention in Minneapolis as an international observer.
If you wish to visit or have visited the art museums in Italy, you owe Veltroni an expression of gratitude. He is responsible for the increase of visiting hours at the museums in the country when he was cultural minister. He also was responsible in the completion of the restoration of the Galleria Borghese, a project that other ministers failed to complete for almost three decades.
In other words, in Europe people expect their leaders to be more than just folks. Europeans are not afraid of leaders who can speak well, write coherent thoughts, are university instructors, and still identify with the aspirations of the factory worker, the small businessman, the fisherman, the small farmer, struggling housewives, the homosexual, and the immigrant. Veltroni, when campaigning, refused to stay in luxury hotels and instead stayed in the homes of supporters whether fisherman in Trapani or factory workers in Turin. He used a bus to campaign around the country and rarely used airplanes. He advocates for the less fortunate despite his intellectual credentials.
His analysis of progressive politics in Europe and our nation is both encouraging and pessimistic. In Europe the conservative parties run governments in France, Italy, and Germany. In the United Kingdom the Conservatives, according to all opinion polls, appear to be the victors of the next election. In Canada the conservatives will probably return to be the governing party. At the same time the political parties of the right both in Europe and North America are campaigning as populists who identify with the aspirations of the less fortunate and working classes using fear of terrorism, elitism of the left, the foreigner, and multi-culturalism to generate votes. It appears though, that the ideas of government participation in the economy, secure social security, and the need for universal health care are becoming the dominant political issues for the voter in the United States. This analysis would lead an observer from overseas, as Mr. Veltroni is, to believe that despite the results of the November election progressive politics in this country will prevail and flourish. I share this view.