Monday, November 01, 2010

R.I.P., Ted Sorensen 

Ted Sorensen, best known for his work as JFK's speechwriter, died on Sunday in New York following complications related to a stroke.

It is fair to say that Sorensen was responsible for much of the brilliance of JFK's set-piece speeches. The 1961 inaugural address included this sentence, which, in historical context, crystallized the attitude of JFK as a Cold Warrior:
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
Of course, JFK was a remarkable extemporaneous speaker, as the old films of his press conferences demonstrate, so Sorensen and Kennedy were an excellent team.

The sentence above was first delivered when I was taking my first steps as a toddler, just a decade and a half after the end of WWII. I am trying to think of a speechwriter today who can come close to that kind of forceful simplicity and clarity, with a rhythm and pace that resonates across half a century. I wonder if there is a politician who could stand up today and express a similar concept, even if the rhetoric is not as soaring. It makes lines about receding oceans sound kind of silly.


By Blogger JPMcT, at Tue Nov 02, 06:40:00 AM:

Clearly the Democrats peaked with Kennedy.

Nowadays when the president talks about punishing his enemies, he's referring to the American people!

Now that I am warmed up...OFF TO VOTE!!!  

By Blogger pam, at Tue Nov 02, 08:24:00 AM:

That sentence was oration. What we get today is filler...  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Tue Nov 02, 08:33:00 AM:

Michael Gerson -- who was one of George W Bush's writers -- was really good. W's speeches are as good as JFK's -- I'd even rank them higher.

Gerson went to Wheaton College, the evangelical college in Illinois.

Here's one of Gerson's line, used just after 9/11:

"Grief and tragedy and hatred are only for a time. Goodness, remembrance, and love have no end. And the Lord of life holds all who die, and all who mourn."  

By Anonymous GregMan, at Tue Nov 02, 09:14:00 AM:

Sorenson was also the real author of "Profiles in Courage". He took that secret to his grave, with the result that millions of Americans still believe that Kennedy deserved the Pulitzer Prize that he was awarded. We owe Sorenson no thanks for that lie, which played no small part in winning Kennedy the election.  

By Blogger TOF, at Tue Nov 02, 09:48:00 AM:

I remember hearing that speech. His successors don't agree with him on that point.  

By Anonymous QuakerCat, at Tue Nov 02, 09:53:00 AM:

As a fairly regular reader who comments on many of TigerHawk's postings, my conservative "street cred" can hang with the best of them...However, did Ignoramus really cite G.W. as a man who inspired others...? I will give Gerson his due, since the guy delivering the speeches had many terrific qualities, but public speaking was the least of those.

Also, the question as to whether Kennedy really authored "Profiles in Courage" regularly comes up because Sorensen had always done a terrible job of denying his involvment. Personally the book is not very well written and if Sorenson did have a hand in it, it must have been to clean it up; because I could not see that piece coming from his pen. It should be noted, though that Kennedy as a College Senior wrote the book "While England Slept" and that was a very insightful book about England and other European countries appeasement strategy.

Last point, for my money Peggy Noonan, David Gergen (despite what you think of them now) and Peter Robinson wrote some really terrific stuff for President Regan. President Regan, it should be noted, added all the right points at all the key inflections within the speech to make his words eternal.  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Tue Nov 02, 10:51:00 AM:

"we shall pay any price, bear any burden,"

That kind of thinking led to our escalated involvement in Vietnam. Yes, I know there was a Cold War going on ... but after Korea we should have known better to avoid a land war in Asia. I can't believe that Nixon would have made the same mistake in the early 1960s. Ironically, Nixon's later not extricating us fast enough from Vietnam led to his domestic downfall in the 1970s. LBJ deserves most of the blame here -- he escalated Vietnam greatly in 1964 -1967 for domestic political reasons -- he feared a challenge from RFK for being too soft.

I grew up around a lot of people who had a picture of JFK in their kitchen ... the way a lot of people today have a picture of Obama with Halo in their kitchens. I later came to think that JFK was one of the worst Presidents of my lifetime ... but the press was on his side, even more so after his assassination. Like Elvis's and Michael Jackson's early exits, it was a good career move.

We won the Cold War precisely because we didn't "bear the burden." Living the Good Life was our greatest weapon. Once upon a time, smuggled Levis blue jeans were the most effective weapon of all.

"did Ignoramus really cite G.W. as a man who inspired others...?"

Yes ... W was great in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Al Gore couldn't have done what W did. But it all went bad with Iraq ....

"Re: Reagan's speechwriters"

My understanding is that Reagan did more on his own than most Presidents, and did even more on his own before that. It goes back to his days as spokesman for General Electric. Ronnie was a actually a closet intellectual.  

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