JFK Counsel Ted Sorensen keeps the dream — and image — alive

Ted Sorensen, special counsel and adviser to John F. Kennedy before and during the Kennedy administration, told a packed house at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club last night that his old friend of Camelot days should be remembered as “a man of peace.”

“The biggest misperception of John F. Kennedy,” Sorensen said in response to an audience question, “is that he was essentially a Cold War hero.¬† That’s from the familiar paragraph at the beginning of his inaugural address, ‘…that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.'”

More important, Kennedy’s old friend said, are the words toward the end of that address in which he reached out a hand to (the nation’s then-#1 opponent) Russia seeking peace — “a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction”; movement toward arms control —“let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms”; and scientific collaboration — “together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.”

Sorensen, whose earlier book Kennedy: the Classic Biography was on bestseller lists for months, was promoting a current memoir, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, and was appearing in a program sponsored by the humanitarian nonprofit Roots of Peace. Much of the newer book focuses on his years with JFK, beginning with an interview at the age of 24, fresh out of the University of Nebraska law school. When he asked then-senator Kennedy what he would want him to do if hired, Sorensen recalls, he was given a long list of proposed meetings¬† with powerful figures and the task of “crafting a legislative program for the economic revival of New England, and I thought that was pretty tall cotton.”

Sorensen, who is acknowledged as author of most of Kennedy’s speeches (though not the inaugural), said the President was unjustly criticized for not writing his own. In those days before press secretaries, communication staffers and speechwriting committees, he said, “it was always a collaborative effort” between the two men. “My office was right down the hall from his in the West Wing, and it was just the President and me. Only the President revised and corrected.”

Kennedy, Sorensen said, resisted advice to send combat troops into Vietnam and bombers into North Vietnam, and to use force in other parts of Indochina. “Thank goodness I learned from the Bay of Pigs,” he quoted JFK as saying; “otherwise I’d have listened to (that) advice.”

But as to Kennedy’s assurance, in a 1963 speech, that “the world knows America will never start a war,” Sorensen said, “that was then… I’m not so sure about now.”

In response to an audience question about what he missed the most, Sorensen said he would want the world to remember that Kennedy began to lay the foundation for peace, through such programs as aid to education, civil rights programs and the Peace Corps, and was a man of peace. “I miss having a friend like that in the White House.”

A quick solution for the national debt

I was just idly reading through the Wall Street Journal‘s Weekend Journal, a fine way to start a leisurely weekend morning and one of those niceties of life one cannot enjoy in front of a computer. Come on, folks, buy a newspaper for crying out loud.

In case you missed it, there are a few pages of Distinctive Properties & Estates for sale, and one of them might be just the thing for you. Skipping over the second home suggestions in the Turks and Caicos Islands ($9m and change) or New Zealand (Bay of Islands hotel, price on request) we find a comfy waterfront estate in Boca Raton, majestic views, $17,900,000, or a skier’s dream in Whitefish, MT for a mere $20m… or you might prefer urban living in the Big Apple in any of several condos with views for way under $25m.

I was particularly drawn to a shady Virginia estate overlooking the James River, where I learned to sail and to bum drinks from friendly millionaires (those were the days when a million was real money) sunning on their docks. It has garaging for 5 cars and a children’s stage on the lower level, and you can pick it up for a mere $4.8m, after which your children will no longer have to suffer with makeshift cardboard boxes for their theatricals.

Included in the 30-acre digs of a little piece of Garfield, MN heaven are a caretaker’s bungalow so you won’t have to worry about those professionally landscaped grounds going to pot, plus a couple of guesthouses for your friends who come to play midnight tennis on the lighted courts. That one’s a steal at $14.9m. Or maybe you’d be more interested in a fixer-upper in Los Angeles: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House, with separate staff quarters, can be yours for $15m and it is already “stabilized and awaiting future preservation.” Frank, whose designs were prone to have leaky roofs so caveat emptor, will surely bless you from the wherever-after of architectural geniuses.

Finally, mid-page, we learn that country superstar Alan Jackson’s pad (am I the only person who isn’t familiar with Alan’s oevre?) in Franklin, TN, is available for the first person to come up with $38m, and it has a bunch of rolling acres and a lot of two-story porches all of which “allude to the grand Southern plantations of years past.”

So here’s the deal. At the risk of being labeled a commie pinko redistribution of wealth fink, I am suggesting that we start a campaign of charitable giving to the national debt. It strikes me none of these prospective buyers and sellers (the above are only the tip of the golden iceberg) could possibly miss a couple million.¬† They would be honored at a grand ball, no crashers allowed, at the White House, possibly receiving a copy of Going Rogue, unless some Obama fan snuck in and wanted to choose Dreams From My Father. The point is, they would get a whole lot of honor and acclaim, and if a few thousand of these folks — even if it took two grand balls — each enlisted a hundred or so of their closest billionaire friends we could pay off the national debt and throw the leftovers into funding universal health care.

Since I am NOT a commie pinko anti-capitalist scum, I am only recommending this as a one-time event. You don’t pony up, you don’t get another chance at fame and feel-good glory. Then we all go back to our CA Prop-13-protected homes or our suburban underwater mortgages and life goes on.

Could anyone possibly argue with that?

White House dinner crashers? '…certainly not us!'

I am still worried about the Salahis. A few days ago it was the issue of decorum, which they do not seem to have in abundance. Today, amid protests of good manners that would never have allowed them to intrude where the uninvited fear to tread, there is concern for their grammar and syntax. For a couple who are clearly headed towards a book deal, grammar may no longer matter but discombobulated syntax can cut into book-signing audiences.

As Kathleen Hennessey and Mark Silva report in today’s Chicago Tribune,

The couple who made it past Secret Service security to hobnob with the president at a state dinner last week say “the truth will come out” about their night at the White House and insist they’re not party crashers.

The couple said in an interview on NBC‘s “Today” that they were “shocked and devastated” by accusations that they showed up uninvited and talked their way past security. They said they were cooperating with a Secret Service investigation and claimed they had evidence showing they had permission to attend the A-list affair.

An e-mail exchange with Pentagon official Michele Jones will, insist the decorous couple — certainly people who invite the TV cameras in to watch their dressings-up can’t be utterly without taste — completely exonerate them.

The Salahis wrote that they drove to the White House the night of the dinner “to just check in, in case it got approved since we didn’t know, and our name was indeed on the list!” The Secret Service has said they were not on that list and that it erred by letting them in.

“We were invited, not crashers,” Michaele Salahi said in the “Today” interview. “There isn’t anyone who would have the audacity or the poor behavior to do that. No one would do that and certainly not us.”

So far be it from this space to insinuate that they are guilty of poor behavior. But there is still room for concern about their facility with the English language:

Tareq Salahi said he and his wife have been “very candid” with the Secret Service and “have turned over documentation to them. … We’re going to definitely work with the Secret Service between Michaele and I to really shed light on this.”

Couple say they didn’t crash White House dinner — chicagotribune.com.

Rallying the Faithful for Health Reform

President Obama sought to strengthen support for health reform among one of his core constituencies Wednesday afternoon, the community of believers. He served as keynote speaker of sorts, in a conference call with some 140,000 members of faith communities around the country. The call sponsor’s title, 40 Days for Health Reform, suggests those communities are mobilizing for action. 40 Days for Health Reform includes progressive interfaith groups PICO National Network, Sojourners, Faith in Public Life and Faithful America; and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. Web sites of the first four list members as adherents of faith traditions including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Urging his listeners to “spread facts and speak truth,” Obama said social change has always involved “a contest between hope and fear.” He reviewed some of the more glaring misrepresentations that have been made by opponents of reform — government take-over, “death panels,” funding for abortions — labeling them “ludicrous,” and said the response to “not wanting government bureaucrats meddling with your healthcare” is that “we don’t want insurance bureaucrats meddling with your healthcare.” There were no surprises, or new ideas floated. Director of White House Policy Council Melody Barnes fielded a few pre-selected questions from listeners but dodged any, such as one direct query about a public option, of substance. Still, among a small group of listeners surveyed after the call everyone was enthusiastic about the happening. “Nobody’s expecting policy pronouncements on a conference call,” said one; “what we need is just the recognition of how many good people want good health reform now.”

The call was clearly designed to rally and encourage the troops of the faithful. And those troops, many weary of watching debate co-opted by the religious right, may indeed now be reinvigorated. Most of the call was taken up with prayers or comments from religious leaders, or stories of tragedies caused by the current healthcare disarray. There were plenty of Biblical touchstones — the call lasted for 40 minutes — for listeners of Abrahamic faith traditions, and more than one of the speakers expressed the certainty that it is God’s will for all of His (or Her) creatures to have affordable, quality healthcare. Sponsoring organizations and participating individuals are gearing up for action in the weeks ahead toward that end.

The call can be heard on the 40 Days for Health Reform site. It may not change any Republican minds, but it does indeed claim a pretty powerful ally for the cause.