Ted Sorensen on Bill Clinton's Legacy
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: You’ve said that Bill Clinton didn’t accomplish much in office despite rhetorical skills. Why?
Sorensen: Bill Clinton, of course he was effective. Very good communicator – so good that if he were sitting here right now he might even persuade me that I was wrong. But what did he do with it? What did he accomplish? He had a better understanding of Black values and culture in this country than any president since Lyndon Johnson. But what did he do with it? The problems faced by Blacks in this country – segregated schools; segregated neighborhoods; unjust discrimination in the law enforcement process, whether we’re talking about profiling by police or disparate penalties in the sentencing; populating our prisons with such a large percentage of the young black male population in this country – terrible situation. None of it changed during eight years. Clinton had two terms – an opportunity to do so much. And he appointed a commission of some very distinguished people. They delivered a report which was noble in its sentiments, but nothing changed. Nothing was done. There was an opportunity to send legislation. Ted Kennedy for example just within the last week or so has sent to . . . has introduced in Congress new civil rights legislation to undo the damage done by the United States Supreme Court under its new conservative rule. Why wasn’t that done during the Clinton administration? Why didn’t he go out on a limb? The same is true internationally. It was an era for multi-lateral cooperation. There was established an international criminal court. Clinton decided the U.S. wouldn’t participate. There was signed in Kyoto a protocol to take the first steps against global warming and other climate change crises. Clinton decided not to send it to Congress. There was with leadership from our friends in Canada and some of the non-governmental organizations a new treaty to restrict the use of landmines. And I’ve been in countries where I’ve seen the limbs that are blown off by landmines that are still littering the ground. Clinton decided the United States wouldn’t participate. We didn’t participate in the biodiversity treaty. We didn’t even participate in the treaties against discrimination against women. We didn’t even discriminate in the treaty against the drafting to the military service of people too young to be inducted into Armed Forces. We backed away from every one of those, because Mr. Clinton with all his wonderful, rhetorical gifts was not willing to go out on a limb.
Ted Sorensen says Bill Clinton didn't do enough to make change.
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