He Was There

Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History by Ted Sorensen

While I enjoyed learning about Ted Sorensen’s life before and after his years working with John F. Kennedy, I’ll confess that the most compelling part of the book was also the heart of it, which focused on the Kennedy years. Often referred to as John F. Kennedy’s speechwriter, Ted Sorensen actually served in a much larger capacity as an adviser to the President. Sorensen wrote a Kennedy biography back in 1965 (Kennedy), but here he speaks much more freely (no longer any need to feel constrained by the opinions of Robert F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy, and also, I suspect, because the decades have given him new perspective). I was struck by Sorensen’s continuing fierce allegiance to JFK – which leads him to maintain that Kennedy truly was the author of Profiles in Courage – though he actually does qualify this statement in such a way that there’s an opening for us to realize how likely it was that Sorensen did much of the heavy lifting. He also sidesteps extensive commentary about JFK’s womanizing and other faults. So, you might ask: Then where’s the good stuff? Here’s one lovely example. My favorite moment of the book is the scene where Sorensen gets separated from his luggage on the campaign trail, and Kennedy aide Dave Powers loans one of JFK’s ties to Sorensen, telling him that Kennedy never wears that particular tie. When Sorensen arrives at the meeting, Kennedy’s first words to him are: “Is that my tie you’re wearing?” It doesn’t get any better than that.