Knight of Camelot Comes to Columbia

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Bwog’s Presidential speechwriting expert David Berke reports on a lecture from JFK speechwriter Ted Sorensen.

Ted Sorensen, chief speechwriter and head counsel to JFK during his presidency, stopped by Earl Hall Auditorium yesterday evening to muse on the Obama transition.

The octogenarian Sorensen was almost completely blinded by a stroke a few years ago, but his age and handicap did not keep him from captivating the audience with his wry humor.

“Up until eight days ago,” he said after being walked to the podium, “I had more vision than the President of the United States.”

Though quick to joke, Sorensen was serious in his unstinting critique of Bush, hammering the departed 43rd for his greed, foreign policy failures and violations of international law. Sorensen insinuated that Bush’s abuses of the Geneva Conventions were so egregious that if the President left the States, another signatory of the treaty could arrest him.

“He might be grabbed the same way Pinochet was grabbed,” added Sorenson (completely straight-faced, mind you). And the Bush-bashing did not end there. When discussing the now innocuous impeachment chatter of the past few years, Sorensen took a similarly excoriate position.

“I believe history will impeach President Bush,” he said.

Though scathing about the past, Sorensen looked forward with bright optimism. Having endorsed Obama in March 2007, well before he became the frontrunner, much less the President, Sorensen happily extolled his favored candidate throughout the evening.

“We have an outstandingly qualified progressive President who has shown qualities of leadership…He will be one of the best Presidents in the history of our country,” Sorensen said. Sorensen even called the inauguration speech “better than any in the last 25 years,” high praise from one of the all-time best Presidential speechwriters (though 25 years does not include Kennedy’s inaugural address).

Sorensen noted, however, that “Mr. Obama is a great president, but not a miracle worker.” He urged students to engage in community service to help get the country back on track and, echoing the new President, asserted that everyone will have to sacrifice for the good of the country.

Sorensen went on to discuss the importance of the transition period from the election to the swearing in. According to Sorensen, the team of advisors the President chooses during this period “is the most important set of decisions a President has to make in his four years in office.”

The Kennedy scribe was pleased with the Obama transition and heartened by the executive orders Obama has signed in recent days, saying, if Obama continues on his current path, we can “look forward to a much better country and a much better world.” He semi-sarcastically predicted an Obama 2012 victory over Sarah Palin.

Sorensen was also willing to recount his own time in the White House, offering his take on the Bay of Pigs (failure was CIA’s fault) and the Cuban missile crisis (diffusion was Kennedy’s success).

The best joke of the evening came when Sorensen discussed Kennedy’s address to the nation during the missile crisis. He said that men who were teenagers at the time of the speech always thank him, saying the speech was so frightening that they “were able to convince their college girlfriends that it was their last night on earth.”

The lecture was rounded out with more time on Obama and Bush as well as Sorensen discussing his own path to speechwriting. The liberal stalwart even included a compliment to Bush’s speechwriters. They did a great job, he said, “considering what they had to work with.”



  1. typo  

    Bay of Pigs, not Bag of Pigs

  2. this  

    was a Columbia Political Union event.

  3. DHI  

    What if you threw a race war and nobody cared?

  4. 25 years  

    Is not high praise. That takes us to 1985. So Reagan's first was, apparently, better. Carter's was better. Both of Nixon's. I'd say it's actually kind of an insult. All he's really saying is that Obama is a better speaker than Clinton. And I watched the convention so I knew that already.

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