Remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Italy, David Thorne, at the “Political Communication Conference”

Amb David Thorne at Political Communication Conference in Rome
Amb David Thorne at Political Communication Conference in Rome

The following are the remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Italy David Thorne, delivered in Rome, December 5, 2012, in the Chamber of Deputies.


Thank you, Massimo, for your gracious introduction.

It is an honor to be here in this great room – named in memory of Aldo Moro – in Italy’s Chamber of Deputies. My thanks to Vice President Maurizio Lupi for making it possible for us to meet here and to Roberto Rao, Francesco Boccia and Gianni Riotta for their participation today. It is their collaboration with our Embassy and co-organizers Amerigo and ENAM that has made this event possible.

There could be no better setting than this to discuss a subject that is much on all of our minds: the political process.

The United States has just celebrated the culmination of a long political season that began in wintry Iowa last January. The decisive re-election of President Obama is a reaffirmation of the faith that a majority of Americans have in his policies and his leadership.

Amb David Thorne at Political Communication Conference in Rome
Amb David Thorne at Political Communication Conference in Rome

Let us hope that across the political spectrum we will see a renewal of bi-partisanship and cooperation to address the enormous challenges that face not just President Obama but our entire nation. We are seeing some positive signs since the election. There are indications that a response to the public demand for less bickering and more agreement, for less stalling and more action, is coming.

Politics is much on the minds of Italians as well. I will leave the discussion of Italy’s politics to the experts here present. But, as a friend and admirer of Italy, I will say that my hope – my expectation – is that we will see a greater spirit of cooperation across party lines in the United States, and we will see that spirit grow and spread across this nation too.

Today’s program will explore political communication strategies and how the innovative use of the startlingly-fast technological advances in this century have changed politics and electoral campaigns in the United States and Italy.

Political leaders and political organizations have always used the technology of their day to persuade, to organize, to recruit, to mobilize.

In American history, the printing press and the pamphlets they produced played a crucial communication role at the time of our own fight for independence.

Franklin Roosevelt’s “fireside chats” were a masterstroke, using the then-new technology of radio to reach a mass audience and inspire confidence and hope in the middle of the Great Depression.

The telegenic John F. Kennedy used television as a communication tool not only to get elected but also to govern his tragically-short term in office.

And, in our own day, candidate Obama in 2008 and President Obama in 2012 has used the package of instant communication means that we call “new media,” and an array of new technology skills to forge successful Presidential campaigns.

We are fortunate to have President Obama’s wizard of technology, Michael Slaby, here today.

That a youthful first term senator could come virtually out of nowhere and become President of the United States is largely the responsibility of one man … not Michael. Barack Obama provided the leadership, the inspiration, the confidence, and the hope that drew Americans to his side.

But in 2008, Senator Obama needed to rapidly get his message across, build a base of supporters, convince potential donors to become actual contributors, and do all the rest that a successful political campaign requires.

In 2012 President Obama not only had to continue to inspire with his vision of the future, but he had the four-year record of his presidency to defend. With the public dissatisfied with stubbornly-high unemployment numbers and the slow pace of our economic recovery, Obama needed a good defense as well as a good offense. The broad-based coalition of support that propelled Obama to victory in 2008 had to be revived and re-unified if the Democrats were to keep the White House.

Michael can tell you how he and his team did it. There is no doubt that he and those with him played a critical role in the direction and the results of both campaigns. They deserve great credit for their work and their success. And Obama deserves credit for his decision early on to invest in an unprecedented organizational and data-oriented campaign.

The results speak for themselves. For political parties in other countries – including Italy – there is a roadmap here for using the new technologies to advance your interests.

I will close with a personal thought.

In 2004, I directed an internet and “new media” campaign for Senator Kerry. We had a team of 34, and we raised $150 million. We were often asked, “What are you doing with all these people?” Facebook and YouTube didn’t exist.

In 2008, Obama had 20 people in technology and 140 people in “new media” and online fundraising. He raised $500 million. Twitter and Reddit didn’t exist.

In 2012, Obama campaign had 140 people in “new media” and online fundraising and raised $500 million. But also, 140 in technology! That’s going from 34 to 280 in 8 years. In 2004, we helped build the internet car. But compared to 2012, it was a balilla – a Ferrari!

You can only imagine how this will develop in another 8 years.

Thank you for your attention. I will now turn you over to Michael Slaby. He has graciously agreed to speak in simple English today rather than in his native technospeak. We are very grateful.