In May of 2006, I heard one of the best Nebraska Wesleyan
commencement speeches I'd listened to in 40-some years and I was
moved to write about it.
The speaker was Ted Sorensen.
You remember, the Lincoln boy who, at age 32, was hired as
John F. Kennedy's speech writer back in 1960. JFK referred to Ted
Sorensen as his "intellectual blood bank." And once again I'm moved
to write about him and something he wrote just this summer.
It was in response to The Washington Monthly magazine's
invitation that he write "the speech he would most want the next
Democratic nominee to give at the party convention in Denver in
August, 2008. We requested that he proceed with no candidate in mind
and that he give no consideration to expediency or tacticsin other
words, that he write the speech of his dreams."
So Sorensen wrote it, called it "The New Vision: The
Speech I Want the Democratic Nominee to Give," and The Washington
Monthly published it in the July/August 2007 issue. Here are just a
few of the many things Sorensen would like to hear from the
Democratic presidential candidate:
"I will wage a campaign that relies not on the usual
fear, smear, and greed but on the hopes and pride of all our citizens
in a nationwide effort to restore comity, common sense, and
competence to the White House
.My campaign will be based on my
search for the perfect political consensus, not the perfect political
consultant. My chief consultant will be my conscience."
(The English major in me is tempted to point out the
skillful oratorical use of alliteration in "comity, common sense, and
competence" in the first sentence above and "consensus,"
"consultant," and "conscience" in the last two sentences. But
readers as sensitive as you don't need your noses rubbed in the
obvious, so I'll resist the temptation.)
Some other things Ted would like to hear the candidate say:
"Our nation is emerging from eight years of misrule, a
dark and difficult period in which our national honor and pride have
been bruised and battered. But we are neither beaten nor broken. We
are not helpless or afraid; because in this country the people rule,
and the people want change."
"We have adopted some of the most indefensible tactics of
our enemies, including torture and indefinite detention."
"At home, as health care costs have grown and coverage
disappeared, we have done nothing but coddle the insurance,
pharmaceutical, and health care industries that feed the problem."
"As growing economic inequality tarnishes our democracy,
we have done nothing but carve out more tax breaks for the rich."
The Truth, Mainly
"I shall set a timetable for an orderly, systematic
redeployment and withdrawal of all our troops in Iraq, including the
recall of all members of the National Guard to their primary
responsibility of guarding our nation
"I shall as soon as possible transfer all inmates out of
the Guantanamo Bay prison and close down that hideous symbol of
"I shall restore the constitutional right of habeus
corpus, abolish the unconstitutional tapping of private phones, and
once again show the world the traditional American values that
distinguish us from those who attacked us on 9/11."
Sorensen would have the Democratic candidate end on this
note: "I'm told that John F. Kennedy was fond of quoting Archimedes,
who explained the principle of the lever by declaring: 'Give me a
place to stand, and I can move the world.' My fellow Americanshere
I stand. Come join me, and together we will move the world to a new
era of a just and lasting peace."
Does that sound like the second coming of Camelot in
Washington or what? It's oratory that would clear out, rather than
add to, the cobwebs in our minds. It's spectacular rhetoric full of
It must be making William Jennings Bryanour town's first
great orator, remembered for his Cross of Gold speechspin in his
grave in envy of his fellow Lincolnite.
I have no idea who's going to be the Democratic
presidential candidate, but the first thing he/she should do after
being nominated is to give Ted a call and see if he's interested in a
replay of his role as the presidentís intellectual blood bank.
P.S. The Washington Monthly piece is on the
internet at washingtonmonthly.com.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail