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Opinion: New Italian premier fires up conservatives

As a young journalist, I was inspired by the gripping story of Jeremiah Denton, the senior American officer to serve as a prisoner of war after being shot down over North Vietnam in 1965.

The book “When Hell Was In Session” tells how Denton’s unshakable faith in God and country sustained him through a year of solitary confinement and the beatings, starvation and terror he endured through seven and a half years in an enemy prison. After later becoming the first Republican to be popularly elected to a Senate seat in Alabama, he reflected: “Although I had lived a far from perfect life, my heart and soul belonged to God, country and family long before the Navy got hold of me.”

In her ascent to become Italy’s first female premier, Giorgia Meloni, seems to be cut from the same conservative cloth.

During a speech in downtown Rome last week that quickly went viral, Meloni fired up conservatives with her fierce defense of traditional values. “I am Giorgia, I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am Christian,” she stated. “No one will take it away from me.”

Liberals launched an immediate attack against Meloni, pasting the fascist label on her right-wing party, Brothers of Italy, while voicing their concerns about a “worrying trend of rising far-right, xenophobic, and anti-democratic parties across Europe.”

When she was 19, Meloni called fascist leader Benito Mussolini a good politician, explaining that “whatever he did, he did for Italy.” She later said that the dictator had “made errors” and more recently, she said that her party totally rejects all forms of totalitarianism and racism.

Now 45, Meloni is well-known in conservative circles, having attended the Conservative Political Action Conference and spoken favorably of U.S. Republicans and right-wing parties in the United Kingdom and Israel. During her Rome speech, Meloni, who was born in 1977 to a working-class family and raised by a single mother, defended her campaign theme that promoted God, country and family.

“Why is the family an enemy? Why is the family so frightening?” she asked. “There is a single answer to all these questions. Because it defines us. Because it is our identity. Because everything that defines us is now an enemy for those who would like us to no longer have an identity and to simply be perfect consumer slaves.

“And so they attack national identity, they attack religious identity, they attack gender identity, they attack family identity. I can’t define myself as: Italian, Christian, woman, mother. No. I must be citizen x, gender x, parent 1, parent 2. I must be a number. Because when I am only a number, when I no longer have an identity or roots, then I will be the perfect slave at the mercy of financial speculators.

“We will defend God, country, and family,” she stated. “Those things that disgust people so much. We will do it to defend our freedom.”

Meloni’s words resonated with American conservatives.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who shared the clip, calling it “spectacular.”

Brigitte Gabriel, a Lebanese-American conservative author, anti-Islam activist, and founder of the anti-Muslim group ACT! for America, tweeted: “She’s also a strong right-wing politician who will stand up against the globalists and put Italy first. What a great moment for Italy.”

Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the House minority whip, stated that “it’s interesting to see that Europe is leading the way by throwing out socialists with conservatives - and great bold conservative women like Meloni and (U.K. Prime Minister Liz) Truss” and that “we need to bring that kind of conservatism to the United States.”

Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who served as governor of Maryland from 2007 to 2015, once stated that our parents taught us to love God, love our family and love our country. Their own parents were immigrants, he said, and their first language may not have been English but the hopes and dreams they had for their children were purely American.

Giorgia has rekindled that same kind of spirit, not the kind that inspired athiest-racist dictator like Benito Mussolini, but the kind of fervency for God, country and family that sustained Americans like Jeremiah Denton.

By Jim Zbick | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.