Nineteen ninety-two was an opportunity for Americans to reflect on both their past and their future. In less than a month, we celebrated the birthday of Columbus and the transfer of power from the New Deal to the Big Chill, from the civics-class pieties of George Bush to the Penthouse improprieties of Bill Clinton.
I watched a good part of the campaign from an Italian vantage-point. I went to Italy primarily to speak about Columbus and the American tradition and to continue my very limited education in things Italian. At the end of the month, I was more confused than ever about Italian politics, but—as is always the case—I had learned something about my own country.
A year or so ago, a part-Italian friend took me to task for saying that Italy was in crisis. Without admitting I was right then, he now acknowledges the real sense of emergency that exists everywhere in Italy. At the end of the summer, the middle classes were practically up in arms against the government's handling of economic questions. Faced with mounting debt, the government ordered property-owners to pay a second round of real-estate taxes. All over Italy, people lined up to pay the impost and avoid the threatened penalties, only to discover that no one knew how much was owed, and, besides, the government had not printed up the tax forms.
The government wanted the extra money, in part, to pursue its futile plan to stabilize the...