Who is Ted Sorensen?
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: Who are you?
Ted Sorensen: My name is Ted Sorensen. I was formerly Special Counsel to President John F. Kennedy. I am now of counsel to the law firm of Paul Weiss here in New York, and I’ve just completed my memoirs or autobiography which will be coming out in May. I’m from Lincoln, Nebraska, and I haven’t the slightest doubt that that city and state as well as two wonderful parents are primarily responsible for shaping me as the person I am today – as someone who believes in all people getting along worldwide and in this country – all races and religions; even people of different political affiliation. Nebraskans are soft-spoken. I grew up in the Middle West, middle class. And I suppose I am, in that sense, more moderate than an extremist on most issues. But I do have very strong convictions when it comes to peace versus war, and racial harmony, and equality versus discrimination.
Question: You had Jewish mother and a Danish father. Did that have anything to do with it?
Ted Sorensen: Of course that had a lot to do with it. In those days intermarriages between Christians and Jews were uncommon. And in Nebraska they were probably even more uncommon. But my parents found that they were very compatible in every sense of the word – philosophically, ideologically, personally. And they were married and produced five children, of who I am right in the middle. After graduation from law school at the University of Nebraska – my alma mater throughout my academic studies – I made that trip because I thought practicing law in Washington would involve more in public affairs and public policy than practicing law with my father in Lincoln. I was interested in politics not as a candidate, but because politics make the world go ‘round and help shape policy in this country. At first I was somewhat disillusioned by all the hypocrisy and hype in politics. I found that the . . . As somebody who famously said, “It ‘aint bean ball.” It’s a rough sport, and should not even be a sport because it’s serious business in selecting who shall govern this country. But I had the good fortune to work for 11 years for an extraordinary human being and an extraordinary President, John F. Kennedy. And I learned a lot from him, including the fact that idealism in public office and politics is still possible.
Question: How did you come to work for him?
Ted Sorensen: It’s an old story which the last line is, “Just lucky I guess.” I was looking for a job at the time that he was elected to the Senate and looking for a staff
Recorded on: 1/30/08
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