How does this election compare to the 1960 election?
Theodore C. Sorensen, former special counsel and adviser to President John F. Kennedy and a widely published author on the presidency and foreign affairs, practiced international law for more than 36 years as a senior partner, and now of counsel, at the prominent U.S. law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. The former chairman of the firm’s International Practice Committee, he has represented U.S. and multinational corporations in negotiations with governments all over the world and advised and assisted a large number of foreign governments and government leaders, ranging from the late President Sadat of Egypt to former President Mandela of South Africa.
Mr. Sorensen and his team at Paul, Weiss have advised U.S. corporations on factories in Russia and Africa, pipelines in the Caribbean and Latin America, and disputes in the Middle East and North America, and negotiated on their behalf with government officials at the highest level in dozens of countries. He has advised foreign corporations from five continents on investments in the United States and elsewhere, foreign governments on problems with the World Bank, the United Nations, the U.S. government and foreign investors, and on changes in their respective mining, petroleum, investment and election codes, and constitutions.
In 2002, Mr. Sorensen was a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Mr. Sorensen is on the advisory board of the Foreign Policy Leadership Council, a director of the Council on Foreign Relations (until 2004) and the Century Foundation, a member of the advisory board of the Partnership for a Secure America and an honorary co-chair of the ABA Commission on the Renaissance of Idealism in the Legal Profession. Mr. Sorensen is the author of the 1965 international best seller Kennedy, seven other books on the presidency, politics or foreign policy and numerous articles on those subjects in Foreign Affairs, The New York Times and other publications. As an active figure in the Democratic Party, he has participated in 10 of the last 12 Democratic Party National Conventions and served in a number of governmental, political and civic posts. Appointed by President Bill Clinton, he served on the boards of the Central Asian-American Enterprise Fund (covering Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan) and the Commission on White House Fellows. He is experienced in the ways of Washington, the United Nations and the multilateral (World Bank, IFC, etc.) and U.S. (AID, OPIC, etc.) financing institutions.
Mr. Sorensen was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1928. He is father of three sons, one daughter and is married to Gillian Martin Sorensen, a former New York City commissioner, a former United Nations under-secretary general and current senior advisor and national advocate at the United Nations Foundation. Mr. Sorensen's memoirs, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, were published by HarperCollins in May of 2008.
Question: How does this election compare to the 1960 election?
Sorensen: Well, there are so many similarities between the two elections that one can hardly remember them all. One of the reasons I became interested in Obama a long time ago was I heard too many people saying that he had lost his chance to be president the day he was born black in America. Just as in 1960 they were saying John F. Kennedy had lost his chance to be president the day he was baptized Catholic in America. In 1960 they were saying John F. Kennedy, who was 39 and a freshman senator when he first began exploring the possibility of the presidency – that was back in 1957 – that he was too young and inexperienced. And then I began reading that they were saying that Barack Obama, who is an old geezer compared to . . . at 46 compared to Kennedy at 39. And Obama is also in his first . . . Yes, he’s also in his first term as United States Senator, and they say he’s too inexperienced. Well if they want experience we can probably drag out Cheney and Rumsfeld again. They have a lot of experience. But as Kennedy said when . . . in 1960 when Richard Nixon, the Vice President of the United States who had a long career in Congress before he became Vice President of the United States . . . He said Kennedy was too inexperienced and was an amateur. Well as Kennedy pointed out, experience is like the taillights on a boat. It shows where you’ve been but not where you’re going. And I even liked old Joe Kennedy’s comment when some congressman told him to tell Jack forget those young kids like Sorensen. He should get some campaign consultants who have a lot of national experience. And the President’s father said, “Experience? Hell, they’re all experienced in losing.” Well Obama, like Kennedy, has judgment. He’s been able to see the country from living abroad, just as Kennedy did as the ambassador’s son. Obama is committed to peace, which is why he opposed the Iraq war before it started at a time when Mrs. Clinton and the other establishment Democrats were buying the Bush propaganda hook, line, and sinker. It’s . . . That’s why Obama in the debates was the only candidate who said yes, he’d be willing to sit down and talk with the leaders of countries that didn’t like us – Iran, Syria, or whoever – just as Kennedy was willing to communicate with Kruschev at the darkest moments of the Cuban Missile Crisis. And that’s how we were able to resolve that crisis without a gun being fired by the United States. So there are many, many parallels. And Obama’s ability to inspire the young . . . Everyone I have gone . . . I have campaigned so far in seven states for Obama. In each of those states I’ve found young, dedicated people in the field often from other states; often sleeping on floors in the living rooms of strangers; often going without pay because they recognized the importance of change, and Obama represents change. Kennedy reached out to those young people also. He inspired them. Volunteers in the campaign a year later became volunteers in the Peace Corps. And in the Civil Rights Movement, the Consumer Movement, the Environmental Movement – those are the same kind of people that Obama is inspiring today. So there are many parallels.
The received wisdom in 1960 was that JFK lost his chance to be president the day he was baptized, Sorensen says.
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