Theodore Sorensen, 1928 – 2010
Before his health began to decline, Ted Sorensen wrote one of the great political memoirs of our time. He simply called it Counselor. Sorensen’s joked that his obituaries would say that “Theodore Sorenson, John Kennedy’s speechwriter…” had died, both misspelling his name and misstating his role as perhaps Kennedy’s most important aide.
Sorensen, who died over the weekend at age 82, was among the last of the Kennedy men and so much more than a speechwriter, although he was among the very best to ever practice the craft.
Kennedy referred to the Nebraska-born Sorensen, who joined JFK’s senate staff and later presidential campaign at age 27, as his “intellectual blood bank.” Historian Douglas Brinkley said Sorensen was the Kennedy Administration’s “indispensable man.”
Sorensen became the young president’s closest aide, second only to Robert Kennedy in enjoying – and understanding – Kennedy’s aspirations and secrets.
Anyone who appreciates the still real power of effective political speech must admire the words that Sorensen shaped and crafted in collaboration with Kennedy, perhaps one of the three or four most eloquent American presidents. For his part, Sorensen thought the letter to authored to the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, that helped defuse the Cuban missile crisis was his greatest work. Sorensen always claimed his collaboration with Kennedy – that is the right word for a speechwriter – was the product of deep trust and understanding developed over long hours spent together and, of course, a shared political philosophy.
At the very end of his very personal, very revealing memoir, Ted Sorensen wrote, “I’m still an optimist. I still believe that extraordinary leaders can be found and elected, that future dangers can be confronted and resolved, that people are essentially good and ultimately right in their judgments. I still believe that a world of law is waiting to emerge, enshrining peace and freedom throughout the world. I still believe that the mildest most obscure Americans can be rescued from oblivion by good luck, sudden changes in fortune, sudden encounters with heroes.
“I believe it,” Sorensen wrote, “because I lived it.”
Theodore Sorensen, 1928 – 2010
In Praise of “a Good Bureaucrat”
I am tardy in making note of the passing of Larry Osgood, a long-time Idaho state government employee and, in the very best sense of the word, a good bureaucrat.
Larry was director of the Division of Public Works – the outfit that manages all the state’s buildings and construction – when I served as Chief of Staff to Governor Cecil D. Andrus. Osgood and I had a standing Wednesday morning meeting during those years. He would wheel himself over to the Statehouse – he’d been hurt in an auto accident some years earlier – and give me his briefing on problems and progress in his domain. He was a take charge, no nonsense guy who never sugar coated the problems and, since the state is a big land lord, there are always problems, nor did he take any credit for a project coming in under budget or ahead of schedule. That was what he expected and he’d frequently say: “we’re trying to make you look good.”
As the Idaho Legislature heads into the home stretch, it was nice to see Osgood acknowledged for his contributions. Rep. Maxine Bell made special note of Larry. Too often state employees get the rap for being less than stellar performers, sitting on their suitcases, waiting to retire. That characterization is mostly bull, but it is a perception that lingers.
I’ll never know how many millions of dollars Larry Osgood supervised during his years as a public works manager, we’ll never know what decisions, large and small, he made that saved money, created efficiencies or provided better public access. You can bet he did all that and more.
My dad used to talk about the company supply sergeant in the Army who seemed to know where everything was stored and knew where to find everything that was needed. You know the type, the person who keeps the organization running with apparent little effort and usually with little acknowledgement. Good bureaucrats do the same for government and they rarely get their due. Larry Osgood was a good bureaucrat. He made a lot of people look good.