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Remarks at a Dinner Honoring President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro of Italy

April 02, 1996

Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. President Scalfaro, Mariana Scalfaro, members of the Italian delegation, distinguished guests: Hillary and I are delighted to welcome President Scalfaro to the White House. We were so warmly received by him in both Rome and Naples in 1994.

President Scalfaro's long public career and his lifelong devotion to the people of Italy mark him as one of the great democrats of our era. He has always been a great friend of the United States. And during the tremendous changes that have affected Italy and all Western democracies since the end of the cold war, he has been a clear voice for civility and decency in public life.

Today we had a serious talk about the issues we are working on together, but tonight it is fitting that we celebrate the extraordinary friendship between Italy and the United States and between the people of Italy and the people of the United States. And tonight, Mr. President, on behalf of all the American people, we thank Italy for the greatest of all its gifts to us, its people. For America has been enriched beyond measure by Italian-Americans.

In this century we have been treated to supreme grace on our sporting fields by athletes from Joe Dimaggio to Joe Montana. In the fine arts we've been blessed with the exuberance of Italians in music from Toscanini to Sinatra to Jon Bon Jovi. [Laughter] We have seen the pathbreaking innovation of Frank Stella in painting, and we have seen Italian after Italian after Italian grace the silver screen, from Frank Capra to this year's best actor, Nicholas Cage.

We have, as everyone knows, benefited enormously from contributions to our public life from the legendary Fiorello LaGuardia to Senator John Pastore, Judge John Sirica, Governor Cuomo, Geraldine Ferraro, the many Italian-American mayors here tonight, the many Italian-Americans now serving in Congress, and to the Italian-Americans who serve on the court, beginning with the Supreme Court Justice, who has also joined us this evening.

Of course, there are millions more. The Italian-Americans who built our businesses and our farms, who are the backbone of our communities, they deserve so much of the credit for America's strength and greatness.

Many believe the remarkable story of Italians in America began with the immigration at the early part of this century. But in fact, the pattern was set long before that by an Italian named Henry de Tonti, born Enrico Tonti in Gaeta. A renowned soldier, sometime diplomat, fearless adventurer, Tonti was the most trusted deputy of the great French explorer La Salle. You could say he was La Salle's Leon Panetta. [Laughter]

He had an incredible string of accomplishments. He was the first European to build a ship on our Great Lakes. He and La Salle together explored the Mississippi River. He brought settlers and traders to the great State of Illinois. And historians credit him with being the true father of that State. This remarkable Italian came to my attention because in 1686 he founded a settlement about midway between Illinois and the Gulf of Mexico on the Mississippi River. The town became known as Arkansas Post, the very first settlement in my home State.

La Salle said that Tonti's energy and resolve made him, and I quote, "equal to anything." In their long and rich history, Italian-Americans have proved themselves equal to anything. And so the extraordinary friendship between the United States and Italy has also proved equal to anything.

The extraordinary friendship between the United States and Italy, rooted in our common love of liberty and democracy, our shared energy and resolve, will help us rise to the challenges of the 21st century and will ensure that we will always be the closest of allies, the best of friends.

And so ladies and gentlemen, let us raise a glass to the partnership between our nations, to the Italian-American community, to the President of Italy and his daughter. Viva l'Italia, and God bless America.

NOTE: The President spoke at 8:37 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Dinner Honoring President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro of Italy Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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