Par Beryl Wajsman le 4 novembre 2010

“Ask not…”

~ Ted Sorensen


So often today, throughout the free nations of the West, we seek leadership. Not simply the elected kind that confuses bookkeeping with boldness and social engineering with social progress. We seek the kind of leadership that with clarity, candour and courage gives us confidence in ourselves and realistic hope for our nation. The kind of leadership that dares to care, refuses to merely run between the raindrops and does not let focus groups and polls determine its vision and values. This week one of the last ties to one of the last such leaders died. Theodore Chaikin Sorensen passed away at the age of eighty-two from complications of a stroke.

Sorensen was Senior Counsel, chief advisor and co-author of many of the great principles and purposes of President John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier. It was said it was said that it was difficult to tell where Kennedy ended and Sorensen began. Together with Bobby and Teddy he was a member of the band of brothers.

JFK.jpgSorensen came to Washington in the early 1950s as a young man of 24. He interviewed with two Senators. The first merely wanted Sorensen to be a PR flack who got his name in the paper regularly. The second, JFK, then the newly elected junior Senator from Massachusetts, wanted Sorensen to compose a plan for the economic revitalization of New England. The choice for Sorensen was easy. 

One of his greatest traits was his self-effacement. He rarely took credit for anything. Yet he was the father confessor and crucible of ideas and ideals to all three brothers. Whenever the standard was raised for a new campaign, Sorensen  was the first called. 

This trait stayed with him always. And though he wrote four books on the Kennedys, he revealed little of his full contributions. He was active until the end as a partner in the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind. He was often asked what parts of Kennedy’s famous inaugural speech that everyone remembers for the line “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country!” he wrote. Sorensen’s answer was always the same, “Ask not…” 

But what he did reveal about that speech revealed much about the man. The words in that inaugural that meant the most to him are still so urgently apt for our time. It tells much about Sorensen the man and Sorensen the observer. Read them now and reflect upon our world. 

“We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

“To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. 

  “To those new States whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom—and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

  “To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required—not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

  “To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support—to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective—to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak—and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.

  “So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. 

  “Let all sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah—to "undo the heavy burdens ... and to let the oppressed go free."

Let us hope that the young Nebraskan of modest means and the scion of a Massachusetts dynasty are today both resting in the eternal peace they so well deserve for instilling so much courage, hope and generosity of spirit in the brotherhood of man .


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