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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[…]

Sorensen’s father was Danish and his mother was Jewish. Their controversial marriage taught Sorensen the value of equality.

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