The Italian Presidential Election Or, Everything Old Is … Still Old

A Special Edition of our exclusive Patreon column, the Tiny News Roundup.

presidential election
Photo: NELA LAZAREVIC, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, via Flickr.

For those who have not yet become part of our Italics Patreon community, one of the many features is our (very nearly) weekly roundup of local news stories from around Italy that I discuss, along with the larger stories like the current presidential election, with my neighbor Signor Bruno. These dispatches compose what we’ve come to think of as Tiny Italy, the little and very local reports that actually help us understand what matters on a daily basis to Italians all over the country. The Tiny News is a roundup of all the things you might have missed while the Big News dominated your scroll, and despite everything, there is almost always good news.

All of the newspapers that we link are local, and many of them are Citizen Journals, or community run, and we make sure that the stories aren’t hidden behind paywalls. We hope you’ll consider following those in your area or even those from other parts of Italy, for they are an invaluable resource for independent news.

Despite our focus on the Tiny, the upcoming presidential election is pretty much all anyone is talking about and the same goes for Signor Bruno and me. As such, we’ve done a special edition of the Roundup to give you our thoughts on the candidates. If you enjoy this then you’ll love our Patreon Community, which is bursting at the seams with great, exclusive content from the Italics team.

And now … to the news! 

The presidential election according to Signor Bruno

Signor Bruno had a little problem with his stufa over the weekend so it was a little difficult for us to have our weekly summit to discuss the news in-depth. For those who don’t know, a stufa is that range of stoves that allow drafty old stone homes to leap into the late 20th century by heating them with either wood or pellets made from compressed sawdust. Signor Bruno reluctantly upgraded a couple of years ago from his ancient furnace to a more eco-friendly model. He has yet to be impressed with his choice and more than once has correlated the replacement of his dependable (albeit climate-killing) stufa with the rapid decline of civilization. I have pointed out that this is spurious; he contends that it is not. Rapidly rising energy prices may well prove him right! 

But enough about all that, because like the rest of Italy the only thing Signor Bruno and I really care about is the upcoming elections for President of the Italian Republic or more specifically, the potential candidates for President of the Republic. Due to a preponderance of time on our hands as we wait for the stufa to get fixed, I made us both a pot of tea and we got down to the business of reviewing each of the possible winners. Our criteria are entirely based on whether or not Signor Bruno likes them, and the grade we have assigned is neither performance-based nor contingent on any scientific evidence. It’s pure conjecture here at Tiny News HQ, just like everywhere else in the world, and we are embracing it. 

Our data, as always, comes from open news sources with no paywall or subscription charges. However, we also wanted to gain a tiny insight into the roster of presidential election candidates, so we did what we do best: for each of the candidates, we took a look at the most important local news stories from their respective hometowns, and in particular to see if local newspapers were talking about the candidates any more or less than others. Below you’ll find our roster based on this surprisingly comprehensive list from Il Meteo, because if there is one thing Signor Bruno doesn’t mess around with, it’s the weather. We’ll then deliver the SB score as well as a brief explainer. As far as scientific content analysis goes, ours is deeply flawed and really as a far from science as you can get without it being, say, a Novak Djokovic investment. We also have no idea whether our opinions will come to fruition on January 25th: we are not, after all, psychic octopuses

Sergio Mattarella

The incumbent is a favorite, and for good reason: he’s enjoyed high approval ratings for his calming presence during the pandemic, and has also managed to engage in some savvy statecraft when the smarmiest elements in the government decided to tear it down. The figure he’s portrayed over the last five years has endeared him to a new generation but for Signor Bruno, Mattarella’s importance extends far beyond that. “Oldies like me remember his brother, how much he suffered. Mattarella is more than a politician, he is a good man.” Moreover, reports that Måneskin desperately want to perform in Palermo, a thing that Signor Bruno does not care much about but supports anyway! There may be no connection but let’s pretend that one is contingent on the other. All told, though he has repeatedly said he would not stand for a second mandate, Sergio Mattarella is the ideal head of state in times like these. SB Score: A

Mario Draghi

When Draghi first came to Palazzo Chigi, he was looked at by Signor Bruno as a competent but largely colorless technocrat who would, in his words, “be able to talk to the banks.” And talk he has done, to impressive ends. Indeed Draghi, the charismatic author of page-turners like Transparency, Risk Management and International Financial Fragility, has won over Signor Bruno largely because he hasn’t done anything noteworthy besides, well, his job. “If Draghi goes to the Colle, whoever replaces him is going to be terrible. And then what?” Indeed, this is the question most of us are asking and to which no one can respond. All we know is that if he does take the position, it’s going to give us here at Italics a lot to write about. SB Score: B 

Silvio Berlusconi

So, we’ve danced around so far but everyone knows that the real reason this race has made such big news is the reemergence of cruise ship crooner Silvio Berlusconi onto the political landscape. The Milanese tardigrade has continued to stir the pot with his announcement of the intention to serve as Presidente and damn it if he doesn’t look like he might pull it off. Now, you, me, and Signor Bruno might be against this (SB is really against it), but many are in favor: despite the waffling of allies like Matteo Salvini, Berlusconi still polls high around the country. In his hometown of Milano, Il Fatto Quotidiano also has doubts about whether he’s still fit for office, which is the kind of stuff that people write about you when you don’t own the media. Signor Bruno’s take is simple: “No, dai, no.” Well, not even tardigrades are immortal. SB Score: D

*update* Berlusconi withdrew his name from consideration, citing “national responsibility” as his motivation. We all know the truth: he saw the SB Score. 

Giuliano Amato

I did not know much about Giuliano Amato before our deep dive began, except that he had been Prime Minister of Italy and served under Giorgio Napolitano. However, that being a category into which millions of people could potentially fall, I wasn’t well informed. Signor Bruno respects him very much but wonders if there is anyone under the age of 80 that’s available to do the job. That said, he seems like a good fit to fill a largely ceremonial role that nonetheless needs to be occupied by a non-criminal. Amato was born in Torino to a Sicilian family and then raised in Tuscany, which works in his favor according to Signor Bruno. Because we couldn’t decide which of those regions to represent, we looked to Switzerland, where Tina Turner just bought an entire village. She is also 80, much to Signor Bruno’s surprise, though sadly unavailable to run for President. She is, however, simply the bestSB Score: B+ (with an assist from Tina) 

Marta Cartabia

Ok, Signor Bruno really wants to see a woman as President of the Republic but he’s adamant that it not be a token appointment just for the sake of appearances. He explained it thusly: “No one plants onions to look at them from the window.” I have no idea what this means! But I do know that of the women under consideration, Marta Cartabia is our favorite. And to be clear, she’s no onion (or is she? I don’t get this metaphor at all!): having served as President of the Constitutional Court as well as Justice Minister under Draghi means the possibility of a competent leader who could potentially do for Italy what other female leaders have done around the world. And she’s young! According to Signor Bruno, she’s young enough to actually see the next decade. For the moment, Legnano News seems a little more occupied with the final farewells to hometown hero and cyclist Livio Mereghetti, which is understandable. SB Score: A-  

Maria Elisabetta Casellati

If I didn’t know better, I would swear that Signor Bru had history with the current President of the Italian Senate, because he feels conflicted about her nomination. On the one hand, she is clearly qualified to hold the position and as a successful woman who has stood down many of her male counterparts, she could be a powerful presence on the world stage. Moreover, her closeness to Forza Italia and Singing Silvio could neutralize him by appearing as something of a victory for his camp. On the other hand, she’s a close ally of Silvio Berlusconi: indeed, even her base in her hometown north, as Padova Oggi reports, isn’t convinced. Protests were staged against both Berlusconi and Casellati, probably proving that earlier metaphor about onions. Or something. Either way, Signor Bruno is conflicted, and that bothers him. SB Score: C

Letizia Moratti

Signor Bruno is much less conflicted on the topic of Ms. Moratti, the former mayor of Milan and notable opponent of Art, Homosexuality, and Romani families. “No, not her. I remember her from before and I never trusted her face to tell me the truth. Maybe she has a nice family, I don’t know. But I think for her, it’s no.” It doesn’t help that frustrated vampire Attilio Fontana backs her nomination, or that she herself seems to defer to Silvio Berlusconi as the ideal candidate for the right. Whatever the case is, Signor Bruno isn’t on board. I guess he prefers Leonardo da Vinci, too. SB Score: D 

Pier Ferdinando Casini

In the course of our discussions on the presidential election, every once in a while I see a glint of recognition in Signor Bruno’s pale blue eyes like he’s recalling some wild night he had that he’d never divulge to me but that was nonetheless an absolute wailer. When he talks about the long-time Christian Democrat and Centrist Casini, he gets that same look in his eyes, perhaps because the Bologna native represents a different time in Italian politics, where sides were a little more clearly drawn but passion was always respected and reciprocated. He thinks Casini would be a very capable president and perhaps even have the same stature as Matarella, but that he’d be too divisive and opinionated to gain broad acceptance. Despite the logic, it’s hard to imagine him getting the votes he would need. Shame, I think, because that glint in those blue eyes makes my heart melt. I’d love to see it more often. SB Score: C+ 

Dario Franceschini

This one’s really for the artists among us, because our man Dario is nothing if not a poet in the guise of a politician. The Minister of Culture has the soft tones and cultural finesse that would look great on the world stage, and no one knows that better than our own fashion correspondent, Signor Bruno. However, despite the “literature professor that gets why a beard is subversive” vibe that Franceschini gives off, he’s a little too tight with Matteo Renzi, otherwise known as what happens when a potato is given consciousness. Are they frenemies? Maybe. But does Matteo Renzi clearly have a plan that involves Dapper Dario? Yep. With that in mind, this nomination for the presidential election gets a big thumbs down from Signor Bru because while he loves a poem, he doesn’t like to get taken for a ride. SB Score: D+ 

Paolo Gentiloni

If anyone has the pedigree to be President of the Republic, it’s got to be Paolo Gentiloni. Signor Bruno remembers way back in the day when Paolo Gentiloni was a rambunctious student movement leader, and he’s always liked him since. Heck, he was even friends with Aldo Moro’s daughter Agnese and went to a Montessori school in Rome. He’s a nobleman who quit the Firm to strike out on his own and it’s paid off in spades. Of course, he’s been through the various news cycles and machinations of Italian politics, but being President means watching all of that and participating in none of it. Signor Bruno has a good feeling about this: “Watch Paolo go.” Say no more! SB Score: A

Romano Prodi

Because written records did not exist when Romano Prodi was born, we have only etchings on caves around Scandiano, in Reggio Emilia. If Signor Bruno is calling someone too old for the job, we really must stop and think about what he’s saying. I do, mostly because he is my neighbor and source for this column and if I stop listening to him I’d have to get a real job, which I am clearly not equipped to do. Or better, listen to Prodi himself: to be 82 years old and assume a job for a seven-year term is, in his words, tempting fate. And really, haven’t we had enough of that? Signor Bruno loves Romano Prodi and calls him a “grande signore,” with the utmost respect. And even though the position is largely and often symbolic, it may still require something more than the hand of fate to perform. At least, we hope? SB Score: C-

Walter Veltroni

If poetry is your thing but you can’t imagine yourself meeting up with Matteo Renzi at an Autogrill, might I suggest the former Mayor of Rome who is also responsible for George Clooney’s wedding vows, Walter Veltroni? While he may not have actually written them. (Or did he?) Veltroni has been such a fixture on the political scene that Signor Bruno almost takes it as an afterthought that he should be included on the list. “Veltroni? Why not?” is the actual refrain that his name receives, which suggests that perhaps Signor Bruno is tired of all of these names, tired of politics, tired of George Clooney. We never asked for you, George. Let Signor Bruno solve his heating woes without your beautiful brooding face coming back into view. Oh and, “Veltroni is an insider, not a President. Leave it like that, sometimes it’s better to be behind the scenes.” Signor Bruno would know! SB Score: C 

If we haven’t been helpful, the folks over at GEDI Digital really have, with this beautiful summary of all of the presidential election candidates we’ve discussed. We definitely likely haven’t been helpful.

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