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John F. Kennedy

John F Kennedy's speechwriter hails Obama's address

John F. Kennedy 59%

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Tuesday 20 January 2009 20.28 GMT


Kennedy's principal speechwriter - who wrote the January 1961 inaugural address which included the lines: "Ask not what your country can do for you…" - on President Obama's inaugural speech.


Today was a very emotional day for me. Of course it brought back very powerful memories of January 1961, but I have been a strong supporter of Obama since the day he declared his intention to run.

My friends told me that I was crazy, that he had no chance, a liberal Democrat and a black man. So yes, it was emotional to watch him take the oath of office.

It was a great day, and the speech and its contents symbolise the greatness of the day, and the change that this country is embarking upon, now that the eight years of the previous administration are over at last.

In terms of delivery it was excellent, very forceful and very well paced, and his sincerity and commitment came through.

But there were parts of the speech in which he made it clear that he had compassion for those who had suffered from the economic collapse, just as there were parts of the speech where he made it clear that the reliance solely on military power, which he said cannot alone protect us, that those days are over.

Parts were certainly downbeat, and in terms of speech psychology there are probably those who would have advised him otherwise.

Nevertheless, each time he followed with upbeat statements that we were going to overcome those challenges. That we had a strong economy, and a productive workforce. Taken as a whole, it struck a very hopeful note.

I thought as a whole it was a very thoughtful speech. It invoked our ancestors and the struggles they went through to keep freedom alive, and I thought that that was very appropriate at this time.

The conclusion in particular was very strong, which made reference to the earliest struggles for independence and liberty, when Britain was the oppressor. And I have to assume that it will be hailed overseas.

My experience is that great speeches are frequently in the eye of the beholder: Obama is so respected, even beloved, around the world that I think the speech will be hailed.

I have been speaking for two years of the parallels between Obama and Kennedy: two young senators, Kennedy even younger than Obama, two men committed to peace. Two men with progressive domestic policies and a multilateral foreign policy. Two men who reached out to young people and brought them into the campaign, and now, in Obama's case, bringing them into government.

President Kennedy, I am sure, would be beside himself with joy at today's events, having turned our country around in its attitudes towards our black citizens, with his speech to the nation, and then his legislation to Congress in June 1963.

The very idea of a black man being elected president, when in those days blacks could not be elected to almost any office, including the Hous. of Representatives; he would think it was a wonderful day for America.


Ted Sorensen


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