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The Truth, Mainly - 08/27/2007

Ted Sorensen, One More Time

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 tactics—in 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."

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•"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 injustice."

•"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 Americans—here 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 spectacular truth.

It must be making William Jennings Bryan—our town's first great orator, remembered for his Cross of Gold speech—spin 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 address is: leonsatterfield@earthlink.net.


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