Ted Sorensen: Scribe of a Lost and Valiant
Incandescence: The Age of Kennedy
By Eve Berliner
Ted Sorensen, presidential speechwriter, special counsel and close advisor, with John F. Kennedy in days of glory.
In the end, they became friends, the unbearable bond of the tragedy drew them together. There was great respect and admiration.
By Eve Berliner
Now the trumpet summons us again – not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are – but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself...
My fellow citizens of the world: Ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
John F. Kennedy Inaugural Address
January 20, 1961
* * *
The jugular thrust of history that tore the promise from our hearts, the noble dream shattered.
We were all so young, so full of the joy, so moved and inflamed by the vision, inspired by the poetry of the calling. Ted Sorensen, presidential speechwriter/knight of the plume of the Kennedy Age, the language that moved a nation with its power.
The bond went deep. They were as two brothers, John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Theodore Chaikin Sorensen, set apart by nature and ancestry, wealth and social distinction, and yet, a meeting of the minds; the one, startling and wildly charismatic, brilliant; the other, the younger man, a Nebraska boy, more understated, deeply moral, a vast discerning intellect, both sharing a love of history, the wisdom of the Scriptures, a fierce idealism.
It was a beautiful collaboration of souls.
Well, space is there, and we're going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.
John F. Kennedy Rice University Address
'We Choose to Go to the Moon"
September 12, 1962
Through the convulsions and the exhilarations, the tense nuclear brinkmanship of the Cuban missile crisis, [Sorensen, a judicious force in the critical secret communications with Khrushchev], the Berlin standoff – to the racial eruptions that seared the American consciousness, the birth of the Peace Corps and the moon shot, Sorensen's voice, his counsel, his cautious wisdom, his power of the pen, crucial.
They were warriors for human justice.
We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is the land of the free except for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens except Negroes; that we have no class or caste system, no ghettoes, no master race with respect to Negroes…We face, therefore a moral crisis as a country and as a people.
John F. Kennedy, Radio and Television Report to the
American People on Civil Rights
June 11, 1963
They were warriors for peace.
According to the ancient Chinese proverb, "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step."
My fellow Americans, let us take that first step. Let us, if we can, step back from the shadows of war and seek out the way of peace. And if that journey is a thousand miles, or even more, let history record that we, in this land, at this time, took
the first step.
John F. Kennedy, Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
Address to the American People
July 26, 1963
What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living…
I speak of peace because of the new face of war…It makes no sense in an age when a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all the allied air forces in the Second World War. It makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by the wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and to generations yet unborn…
The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war. We do not want a war. We do not now expect a war. This generation of Americans has already had enough – more than enough – of war and hate and oppression.
John F. Kennedy Commencement Address
American University, June 10, 1963
Confident and unafraid, we labor on—not toward a strategy of annihilation but toward a strategy of peace.
John F. Kennedy Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Address
American University, June 10, 1963
* * *
"Ted Sorensen was a very important figure," Robert Kennedy was to acknowledge in his oral history for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, "Whenever it became a difficult matter, whether it was domestic or… foreign policy, if it was difficult, Ted Sorensen was brought in."
The relationship with Bobby had not been easy. There had been an undercurrent, a subterranean, almost sibling element – suspicion, resentment, a certain jealousy, on both sides – the two vying unconsciously for the President's confidence, that one day exploded in a field during a touch football game with JFK, when Bobby shoved Ted rather brutally and brought him down hard to the muddy ground.
An enmity that slowly eased amid deepening respect, dissolved in the grief of JFK's death and the spiritual and empathic changes it wrought in Bobby.
They became brothers in grief.
* * *
He enters the National Arts Club tentatively, amidst the crowd, an isolation about him in the near blindness of his eyes, at age 80, amazingly youthful, having just walked the city, alone, to his destination at Gramercy Park.
"True, I don't see much but I have more vision than the current President of the United States," Ted declares to his enthralled Silurian audience.
He has written a monumental memoir of his life, delving, brilliant, honest, soul -baring, deeply beautiful and gripping, a personal and brave reminiscence of his years with John Kennedy in the White House, his beginnings, the 40 years of distinguished international law work that followed, memorable encounters with renowned world leaders such as Castro, Sadat and Mandela.
As for the political scene today, Ted Sorensen is, of course, an ardent supporter and occasional advisor to Barack Obama.
"I am a foot soldier in the Obama Brigade."
At audience probing, he envisions victory for Obama "in a narrow race" reminiscent of John F. Kennedy's tense historic 1960 win.
He allows himself a moment of reverie: "A second Kennedy term would have been the Golden Age of American politics and government," he smiles gently.
He will not talk about the assassination.
"It was the worst day of my life."
* * *
The deep conscience was borne of both his mother and father.
His mother, a lioness, a pacifist, a great nurturer, a Suffragette and a writer, his father, a love of the art of politics, Attorney General of the State of Nebraska, a powerful debater, fought against the death penalty and racial injustice.
The two greatest blows of Theodore Sorensen's life, his mother's descent into insanity during his boyhood and the death of John F. Kennedy.
The pain diminishes but never dies.
At home, the treasured photograph of the President and his special counsel, Ted Sorensen, as they depart the West Wing in the golden March 1963 sunlight.
The inscription is written by Jackie: "To Ted, who walked with the President so much of the way and who helped him climb to greatness."
And another cherished note from Jackie accompanying a collection of JFK's personal doodles, drawn by him during the Cuban missile crisis:
"For Ted – who saved them then, and gave them to me in Hyannis Port on my birthday last year. I want you to have them now, with my love always, for all you were to him."
It is to be acknowledged to the reader that all the wonderful reminiscences recounted in this article have been drawn from the pages of Mr. Sorensen's masterful new work, "Counselor: A Life At the Edge of History," a tome which took Sorensen six years to complete, published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. – Eve Berliner