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Remarks at the State Dinner Honoring Prime Minister Romano Prodi of Italy

May 06, 1998

Good evening, and welcome to the White House, Mr. Prime Minister, Mrs. Prodi, distinguished members of the Italian delegation, my fellow Americans.

Mr. Prime Minister, today we accomplished a great deal. Tonight we celebrate the ties that bind us.

Those ties begin with the discoveries of Columbus and Vespucci, whose busts adorn the Blue Room next door. When the Founders created the American Republic, they looked to Rome for inspiration. George Washington was likened to Cincinnatus, the Roman hero who abandoned his plow to rescue his country by popular demand. I might say, they were the last two people to head our countries only by popular demand. [Laughter]

Poets and philosophers of the Roman Republic were read and rejuvenated as our new Republic looked to the past to plan our future. In the writings of ancient Roman thinkers like Cicero and Cato, America's Founders saw the promise of democratic representative government. Every aspect of our new Republic paid tribute to the simple grandeur of Rome: from our architecture to words like "senate" and "capitol." Indeed, after our Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked what our Founders had produced. His simple reply was, "A Republic, sir, if you can keep it."

Towns sprang up with the names from the ancient Mediterranean world, names like Utica, Troy, or the Vice President's hometown, Carthage. Artists portrayed America's leaders wearing togas, as the bust of George Washington in the hall demonstrates. Thankfully, that is a tradition we have left to the 19th century. [Laughter]

In the 19th and 20th centuries, our Republic turned into a bustling nation, thanks in no small measure to Italian-Americans. Ancient Rome was replaced by young Italy in the American imagination. And democracy was given new life by heroes like Mazzini and Garibaldi.

America's growing cities attracted millions of Italians, eager to build a new life in a new world. They worked hard. They prospered. Today American Italians, or Italian-Americans, are leaders in every enterprise conducted in our Nation. And as we all know, it is impossible to walk more than a few blocks in any American city without hearing the words "caffe latte." [Laughter]

The people here in this room tonight are the link between our two countries, between two cultures that have nourished each other since America was just an idea. From our highest courts to our finest tables, from our playing fields to our silver screen, from one side of the aisle in Congress to the other, Italian-Americans have graced our Nation with their intellect, their industry, their good will, and above all, a contagious love of life.

Mr. Prime Minister, you have accomplished so much in your time in office. You have presided over a string of economic successes. And Americans especially admire your perseverance in leading Italy toward European monetary union. Without Italy, Europe is not Europe. And without Europe, the world would be a poorer, less free, and much duller place.

Italy has been a force for peace and security in its region, on the Continent, around the world, in Albania, in Bosnia, and in Kosovo, where we're working hard together to bring about a peaceful resolution. America is proud to know you as a partner and an ally, and we are grateful for your provision of our military bases, sent to help maintain Europe's hard-won peace.

Mr. Prime Minister, we take pride in our strong friendship. We know it will continue to grow stronger as we enter the new millennium, a word that brings us, once again, back to Rome. For just as the Pax Romana spread far and wide through the ancient world, we hope and work for the peace of a new millennium that will allow more people than ever before to live their dreams in security.

If we can achieve a peace of the millennium, then the ancient dream of Columbus to explore new places can be lived by more people than ever—new places in outer space, in biotechnology and medical research, in the hearts and minds of people around the world who still look to Italy and America for confirmation that a good society can be created from many parts.

E pluribus unum, the motto of the United States, a principle cherished by Italians and Americans: Out of many, one. Mr. Prime Minister, let us make it so.

Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to join me in a toast to the Prime Minister and Mrs. Prodi and the people of Italy.

NOTE: The President spoke at 8:30 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to the Prime Minister's wife, Flavia Prodi. The transcript made available by the Office of the Press Secretary also included the remarks of Prime Minister Prodi.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the State Dinner Honoring Prime Minister Romano Prodi of Italy Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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