Ted Sorensen’s ‘signature’ marks the aspirations of every speechwriter

Now that Ted Sorensen has died, everyone remembers his eloquence. Bob Lehrman wants us to remember how much hard work underlay that eloquence, how “concrete, witty, and researched” his speeches were.

In Teddy White’s pioneering The Making of a President 1960, he refers in diplomatic terms to what Ted Sorensen actually did. “His introspection, his reading, his elegant writing, had stimulated many of Kennedy’s finest thoughts and expressions.”

Today, 50 years later, the Washington Post is blunter about Sorensen, who died on Sunday, and who was due to speak at American University in March for the 2011 Speechwriters conference jointly sponsored by Ragan Communications and American University.

“JFK’s speechwriter,” the headline begins over the Post obituary, saying that Sorensen “provided his chief with many of the words and thoughts that still resonate through American life.”

He didn’t just stimulate them, the Post says. He provided them. Which is, of course, true, though Sorensen himself was always circumspect about saying that. The change is a mark of how much he influenced people like me, who never met him. Those were the days when politicians usually didn’t want to admit that others wrote the words they uttered.

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