Mary McGrory is one of the few members of the Washington press corps who is as good a writer as she is a reporter. She chronicles the goings-on in Washington with wit, style and insight. And her continual desire to search for the story beyond the headlines makes her a pleasure to read.
OBSESSION WITH DEATH PENALTY COLORS VIEW OF U.S.
-- In Italy, where I was lately loafing, the perspective
on our presidential race is a little different. I first
encountered it in a piazza in a small Tuscan town called
Orbitello. I met a humble couple from a suburb of Venice
who wanted to chat with an American tourist. Although
I hadn't asked him, the man announced, "We are for
was somewhat taken aback, because I have talked to so
many Americans who said they didn't know enough about
Gore to decide. It turned out all the Italian couple needed
to know about George W. Bush is the large number of executions
in Texas during his time as governor. La pena di morte
-- the death penalty --the woman intoned. The phrase
reverberated throughout my stay.
abhor capital punishment. It goes against the grain, which
is that things can be worked out -- an attitude that makes
being in their company so delightful --and the death penalty
is so arbitrary. "Just one mistaken execution is
enough argument against it," a reporter for La Stampa
told me. He is against the death penalty, but also laments
the Italian obsession with it: the parliamentary delegations
that fly over to plead with U.S. governors to stay executions
and the extravagant sympathies that caused one Italian
municipality to claim the body of an executed U.S. criminal
for an honored burial.
I was in Rome, I went to the Coliseum one day to check
out the fake gladiators who have sprung up in the wake
of that summer movie and who hang around to have their
pictures taken with tourists. Across the street was a
white tent with a "Save Barnabei" banner strung
along the length of it. The celebrity protester of the
day was the mayor of Rome, Francesco Rutelli, a handsome
conservative who wants to be prime minister. Derek Rocco
Barnabei, a 33-year-old Italian-American convicted of
rape and murder, was executed in Virginia a few days later
on Sept. 14.
Ambassador Thomas Foglietta had a lunch at the Villa Taverna
in Rome with government and business officials to push
his plan to revive the economy of southern Italy by bolstering
air service to the region so that nostalgic Italian-Americans
can visit their roots. Before he could proceed, the mayor
of Florence unfurled a petition from Florentine schoolchildren
pleading for a moratorium on executions.
was still buzzing about the curious double papal beatification
that occurred at St. Peter's on Sept. 3: Pope John XXIII,
the adored reformer of Vatican II whose humanity warmed
the world, and Pius IX, a 19th-century abrasive absolutist
who had a Jewish child abducted and brought to the Vatican
(the child was said to have been baptized). The current
pope, John Paul II, was thought to be seeking a balanced
ticket, attempting to appease conservatives in the Roman
Curia who deplored the liberal John.
pena di morte figured even in this controversy:
Pius IX -- who also outraged Italian patriots by his opposition
to the Risorgimento, the uprising that led to Italy's
unification and independence -- was a believer in the
death penalty, and rebels in states under his control
were executed. John Paul II is, of course, the world's
most eloquent voice in opposition to capital punishment.
Italians have trouble believing it is not an issue in
Lake Como, in the Villa D'Este, a hotel of storied elegance
and comfort, I attended a conference dedicated to consideration
of the future of Europe, the outlook for e-commerce and
such. Nobody talked about the death penalty. The unspoken
theme was the almightiness of the dollar and its rout
of the euro.
the second day of the gathering, President Clinton's decision
to leave the question of a national missile defense to
his successor was announced. It was met with great satisfaction
and further proof that Clinton really understands Europe,
which was quaking at the thought of forward motion on
an enterprise that so plainly enraged Russia and could
lead to a new spurt in the arms race.
after speaker lauded the long-running miracle of the American
economy. (Italy's brainy, and possibly short-term, prime
minister, Giuliano Amato, entered one caveat: the unwisdom
of running such a huge -- $400 billion -- trade deficit.)
The unasked question seemed to be, "Why would the
United States even consider making a change at the top?"
The conservative U.S. defense analyst Edward Luttwak told
them it wouldn't. In a brisk talk, he informed the bankers
and statesmen that Al Gore -- and a Republican Congress
-- will win. The conference ended with a fashion show
I have come back to a campaign that seems lost in talk
of kisses (the Gores' convention clinch, W's big smack
for Oprah), to Democrats fretting that Gore may have peaked
too soon and to talk of Gore's mother-in-law's arthritis
medication as compared with his dog's for the same ailment.
the Italians are right. Maybe there isn't a great deal
to talk about.