Theodore Chaikin Sorensen, 1928 - 2010
Photo by Justin Hoch for Hudson Union Society (27 May 2009)
Born: 8 May 1928, Lincoln, Nebraska
Died: 31 October 2010, New York City
Sorensen's father Christian named his son after Teddy Roosevelt, ran and won the seat of Nebraska attorney general the year after Ted was born. Ted went to public school, then took his bachelors and law degrees at the University of Nebraska. In 1951 he went to Washington City looking for work as a low-level government lawyer. In early 1953 he was offered jobs by two newly-minted senators, Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson (my old nemesis here in Washington state) and John F. Kennedy. Kennedy's job sounded more interesting, it might as well have been a marriage proposal. Sorenson was soon involved in writing Kennedy's speeches, and when Kennedy was recovering from a spinal surgery, they worked closely on Profiles in Courage. There has been much said about whether or not Sorensen actually wrote the book, to hear him tell of it, the relationship was so close it was hard to tell who deserved more credit, even to the two of them.
Kennedy spoke at the 1956 Democratic national convention, evaded being tagged as Adlai Stevensen's running mate, and Kennedy and Sorensen hit the road, with the senator speaking at least once in every state over the course of three years. Sorensen would write a speech, listen to it, rewrite it, listen to it again, rewrite. By the time the presidential race was underway the writer knew Kennedy's rhythms and thought patterns better than the candidate. He was hired as special counsel, and he was involved in everything except Kennedy's romances, of which Sorensen did not approve. Robert Kennedy said, "If it was difficult, Ted Sorensen was brought in." Sorensen has said that the one thing he was most proud of in his life, even more than the soaring inaugural address, was the letter he wrote to Khrushchev proposing the agreement that ended the Cuban missile crisis. After the assassination Sorensen practiced law, specializing in international issues, both Nelsen Mandela and Anwar Sadat were clients. He did run for the senate seat that Bobby Kennedy had held in New York in 1970, losing in the primary, an event he referred to recently as "hubris". Jimmy Carter offered him nomination as Director of Central Intelligence, soon dropped when it came out that Sorensen had registered as a conscientious objector. In addition to his law practice, Sorensen spoke about speaking until his 80th year. A stroke in 2001 cost him his eyesight, a second stroke led to his death a week later.
Ted Sorensen quotes:
Click here to find books by Ted Sorensen at Amazon.com
- A nation without credibility and moral authority cannot lead, because no one will follow. permalink
- A speech is made great, not from the words used, but from the ideas conveyed. If the ideas, principles and values and substance of the speech are great, then it's going to be a great speech, even if the words are pedestrian. The words can be soaring, beautiful and eloquent but if the ideas are flat, empty or mean, it's not a great speech. permalink
- Above all, we shall wage no more unilateral, ill-planned, ill-considered, and ill-prepared invasions of foreign countries that pose no actual threat to our security. permalink
- Al Gore is not just whistling in the wind. Global warming is for real. Every scientist knows that now, and we are on our way to the destruction of every species on earth, if we don't pay attention and reverse our course. permalink
- Although JFK could be steely and stern when frustrated, he never lost his temper. When times were bad, he knew they would get better — when they were good, he knew they could get worse. permalink
- Consistently wise decisions can only be made by those whose wisdom is constantly challenged. permalink
- Don't worry about the fact that I can't see. I have more vision than the President of the United States. permalink
- During my 11 years with JFK, my most important national contributions — advising him on civil rights, on the decision to go to the moon and especially on the Cuban missile crisis — did not center on the speechwriting. permalink
- Everything evolved during those three-plus years that we were traveling the country together. He became a much better speaker. I became much more equipped to write speeches for him. Day after day after day after day, he's up there on the platform speaking, and I'm sitting in the audience listening, and I find out what works and what doesn't, what fits his style. permalink
Interview with The New York Times (2007)
- For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived, and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. permalink
John F. Kennedy commencement speech at Yale University (delivered 11 June 1962)
- I approached each speech draft as if it might someday appear under Kennedy's name in a collection of the world's great speeches. permalink
Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History (2008)
- I believe in an America in which the fruits of productivity and prosperity are shared by all, by workers as well as owners, by those at the bottom as well as those at the top; an America in which the sacrifices required by national security are shared by all, by profiteers in the back offices as well as volunteers on the front lines. permalink
- I came from Nebraska, a very middle class family with a progressive father. permalink
- I still believe that the mildest and most obscure of Americans can be rescued from oblivion by good luck, sudden changes in fortune, sudden encounters with heroes. I believe it because I lived it. permalink
- I think Democrats made a mistake running away from liberalism. Liberalism, uh, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John and Robert Kennedy — that's what the Democratic party ought to reach for. permalink
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