Monday, November 01, 2010

Ted Sorenson - Intellectual Blood Bank to JFK - Dies


Coming from the Great Plains and always dreaming of being a presidential advisor, speech writer and a journalist, Ted Kennedy of neighboring Nebraska was always a hero. JFK was the first president I campaigned for in my life and not just because I went to Catholic schools, but because my grandfather had drilled into me the importance of knowing current events. Every weekend he tested me on the events in the nation and world and you really don't want to make an Irishman mad or disappointed in you.

So early on I knew about Sorenson from Nebraska in the inner circles of Kennedy's Camelot and was aware of the brilliant work he performed writing JFK's speeches. I could not imagine how someone from the Midwest and the University of Nebraska was as smart as all the Harvard people surrounding Kennedy. Sorenson taught me that everyone can rise to their potential.

Later on I had occasion to meet Sorenson and was more impressed. However, what was most impressive to me about this brilliant word man was that Kennedy himself admitted that some of his best speeches were written by Sorenson and even referred to him as his "intellectual blood bank". People like Sorenson who helped people like JFK build bridges are sorely missed in the partisan polarization that exists in politics today.

Theodore Chaikin "Ted" Sorensen (May 8, 1928– October 31, 2010) was an American presidential advisor, lawyer and writer, best known as President John F. Kennedy’s special counsel and adviser, legendary speechwriter, and alter ego. President Kennedy once called him his “intellectual blood bank.” He was Of Counsel at the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. He died on October 31, 2010, following a stroke.

Sorensen was born in Nebraska, the son of Christian A. Sorensen, a Danish American and the future attorney general of Nebraska, and Annis Chaikin, who was of Russian Jewish descent. He graduated from Lincoln High School in 1945. He earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and attended law school at the same university, graduating first in his class.

Sorensen was President Kennedy's Special Counsel & Adviser, and primary speechwriter, the role for which he is best remembered today. He was particularly famous for having helped draft the inaugural address in which Kennedy exhorted listeners to "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." This call to service is the phrase still most closely associated with the Kennedy administration. Although Sorensen played an important part in the composition of the Inaugural Address, "the speech and its famous turn of phrase that everyone remembers was," Sorensen firmly states (counter to what the majority of authors, journalists and other media sources have claimed), "written by Kennedy himself."

In the early months of the administration the scope of Sorensen's responsibilities lay within the domestic agenda; however, after the Bay of Pigs debacle Kennedy asked Sorensen to take part in foreign policy discussions as well. During the Cuban Missile Crisis Sorensen served as a member of ExComm and was named by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara as one of the "true inner circle" members who advised the president, the others being Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, General Maxwell D. Taylor (the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs), former Ambassador to the Soviet Union Llewellyn Thompson and McNamara himself.[6] Sorensen played a critical role in drafting Kennedy's correspondence with Nikita Khrushchev and worked on Kennedy's first address to the nation about the crisis on October 22.

Sorensen was devastated by Kennedy's assassination, which he called "the most deeply traumatic experience of my life...I had never considered a future without him."[7] He submitted a letter of resignation to President Johnson the day after the assassination but was persuaded to stay through the transition. Sorensen drafted Johnson's first address to Congress as well as the 1964 State of the Union. He officially resigned February 29, 1964, and was the first member of the Kennedy Administration to do so.

Prior to his resignation, Sorensen stated his intent to write Kennedy's biography, calling it "the book that President Kennedy had intended to write with my help after his second term." He was not the only Kennedy aide to turn to writing; historian and Special Assistant Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. wrote his Pulitzer-winning memoir A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House during the same time span. Sorensen's biography Kennedy was published in 1965 and became an international bestseller.

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