Speechwriting: What made JFK’s rhetoric great?

The combined talents of Kennedy and speechwriter Ted Sorensen led to some of the most memorable moments in modern politics. But the foundation was Kennedy’s vision.

John F. Kennedy urged Americans ask themselves what they could do for their country. His words inspired them to land on the moon. And he called for Congress to pass civil rights legislation.

On the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, speechwriters are returning to the eloquent rhetoric and high ideals the 35th president expressed — with the help of his wordsmith and adviser Ted Sorensen.

Perhaps every writer yearns to craft phrases that will be engraved in marble someday, but the Sorensen-Kennedy partnership wasn’t all about the language, speechwriters say. The power lay in the ideas.

Kennedy’s successful rhetoric was built on a boldness of vision, says Robert D. Friedman, senior director of executive communications at Eli Lilly and Co. The president called on people to support the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and promised to land a man on the moon within the decade.

“That’s, I think, what leadership looks like for those of us who write for leaders,” Friedman says.

Setting the stage

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