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Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 | 01:15 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 | 01:15 | SYDNEY

The wit of Ted Sorensen

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23 June 2008 08:28

The Weekend FT contains my review of Ted Sorensen’s new memoir, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History. In May this year I heard Sorensen speak in front of a packed house at a famous Washington bookshop, Politics & Prose. It was a wonderful performance.

The man looks remarkable given his eighty years and he has an attitude to match. The bookshop owner fussed over him as he approached the podium, referring to his near-blindness since suffering a stroke a few years back. Sorensen’s retort: ‘Don’t worry about my eyesight, I have better vision than the president of the United States.’

He made a number of references to Barack Obama, of whom he has been a prominent booster. At one point he quoted these lines from ‘The Cure at Troy’, Seamus Heaney’s translation of Sophocles’ ‘The Philoctetes’:

History says, don't hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

‘I’ve had the extraordinary good fortune’, said Sorensen, ‘to see such a movement twice in my life.’

My favourite moment came when he half-complained that he is persistently described as JFK’s speechwriter, notwithstanding his other roles as policy and political adviser. ‘That’s not so bad, given the number of JFK speeches that routinely appear in the lists of top speeches of the twentieth century.’ Still, he said, he was resigned to the fact that his obituary in The New York Times would read:

‘Ted Sorensen, Kennedy speechwriter, died yesterday aged 104, shot by a jealous husband…’

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