Friday, June 29, 2007

Sorensen's Vision

by Ryan Anderson
Nebraska native and legendary speechwriter Ted Sorensen was asked by Washington Monthly to produce the "speech of his dreams", a hypothetical address to be delivered by a still nameless nominee at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Sorensen, best known as the man John F. Kennedy called his "intellectual blood bank", produced a characteristically lyrical and uplifting portrait of a campaign divorced from all Beltway conventional wisdom. His vision of what politics could be, of what the Democratic party should be, is a must-read for anyone concerned about the direction of their government and the future of their country:

My campaign will be based on my search for the perfect political consensus, not the perfect political consultant. My chief political consultant will be my conscience.

Thank you for your applause, but I need more than your applause and approval. I need your prayers, your votes, your help, your heart, and your hand. The challenge is enormous, the obstacles are many. Our nation is emerging from eight years of misrule, a dark and difficult period in which our national honor and pride have been bruised and battered. But we are neither beaten nor broken. We are not helpless or afraid; because in this country the people rule, and the people want change.

True, some of us have been sleeping for these eight long years, while our nation’s values have been traduced, our liberties reduced, and our moral authority around the world trampled and shattered by a nightmare of ideological incompetence. But now we are awakening and taking our country back. Now people all across America are starting to believe in America again. We are coming back, back to the heights of greatness, back to America’s proud role as a temple of justice and a champion of peace.

The American people are tired of politics as usual, and I intend to offer them, in this campaign, something unusual in recent American politics: the truth. Neither bureaucracies nor nations function well when their actions are hidden from public view and accountability. From now on, whatever mistakes I make, whatever dangers we face, the people shall know the truth—and the truth shall make them free. After eight years of secrecy and mendacity, here are some truths the people deserve to hear:

We remain essentially a nation under siege. The threat of another terrorist attack upon our homeland has not been reduced by all the new layers of porous bureaucracy that proved their ineptitude in New Orleans; nor by all the needless, mindless curbs on our personal liberties and privacy; nor by expensive new weaponry that is utterly useless in stopping a fanatic willing to blow himself up for his cause. Indeed, our vulnerability to another attack has only been worsened in the years since the attacks of September 11th—worsened by our government convincing more than 1 billion Muslims that we are prejudiced against their faith, dismissive of international law, and indifferent to the deaths of their innocent children; worsened by our failure to understand their culture or to provide a safe haven for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees displaced by a war we started; worsened by our failure to continue our indispensable role in the Middle East peace process.

We have adopted some of the most indefensible tactics of our enemies, including torture and indefinite detention.

We have degraded our military.

We have treated our most serious adversaries, such as Iran and North Korea, in the most juvenile manner—by giving them the silent treatment. In so doing, we have weakened, not strengthened, our bargaining position and our leadership.

At home, as health care costs have grown and coverage disappeared, we have done nothing but coddle the insurance, pharmaceutical, and health care industries that feed the problem.

As global warming worsens, we have done nothing but deny the obvious and give regulatory favors to polluters.

As growing economic inequality tarnishes our democracy, we have done nothing but carve out more tax breaks for the rich.

During these last several years, our nation has been bitterly divided and deceived by illicit actions in high places, by violations of federal, constitutional, and international law. I do not favor further widening the nation’s wounds, now or next year, through continuous investigations, indictments, and impeachments. I am confident that history will hold these malefactors accountable for their deeds, and the country will move on.

Instead, I shall seek a renewal of unity among all Americans, an unprecedented unity we will need for years to come in order to face unprecedented danger.

Whether you agree with all of the specific suggestions offered in this speech (and I myself am at least conflicted about the pledge to seek no further "investigations and indictments" against those who performed "illicit actions in high places"), you have to admire Sorensen's bold desire to move beyond the conventional narrative of our two-party system. Really, read the whole piece. Eschewing money for TV ads and personally buying the television time to host six more debates? That's different. Maybe it's just different enough to work.

Of course, writing this speech is one thing. Having it delivered, or having its spirit adopted, by an actual presidential candidate is another. But with the bully pulpit or without it, these words speak for themselves; speak loudly enough that they just might be heard.

Sorensen will be forever linked to JFK and the inaugural address that gave birth to an entire generation of progress. Kennedy's figure looms large, in Sorensen's life as well as our party and nation. But anyone who thinks Sorensen lives in a shadow hasn't read these words, hasn't seen the light they shine. And will continue to shine, long after their author has gone.



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