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.”