Ted Sorensen’s service to John F. Kennedy (as both US Senator and President) earned him legendary status as the most celebrated speechwriter in US history. Sorensen crafted the famous “Ask not…” phrase in the inaugural address, and wrote JFK’s stirring “New Frontier” acceptance speech when he won the Democratic nomination in 1960.
Last week, Sorensen (now 79) wrote another speech intended to inspire the Democratic hordes who scent victory in another watershed election. He wrote a proposed “Acceptance Speech” which he means to offer to whichever candidate prevails in the nomination fight.
Some of the carefully crafted language reads like vintage Sorensen – and could be reasonably effective if properly delivered by a skillful speaker. “In this campaign,” the speech declares, “I will make no promises I cannot fulfill, pledge no spending we cannot afford, offer no posts to cronies you cannot trust, and propose no foreign commitment we should not keep. I will not shrink from opposing any party faction, any special interest group, or any major donor whose demands are contrary to the national interest.”
At this point, however, Sorensen delivers a definition of unabashed liberalism, which, if echoed by the actual Democratic nominee, could guarantee victory for the GOP: “Nor will I shrink from calling myself a liberal in the same sense that Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt, John and Robert Kennedy, and Harry Truman were liberals – liberals who proved that government is not a necessary evil, bur rather the best means of creating a healthier, more educated, more prosperous America.”
Conservatives should rejoice at the prospect of fighting out an election campaign on precisely this question: is government indeed the “best means of creating” a better America—or is it an intrusive, annoying, arbitrary, largely destructive force that consumes too much of out time, energy and money.
I remain confident that the majority of our fellow citizens will warm much more readily to the Ronald Reagan formulation that “government isn’t the solution; government is the problem,” or the Jeffersonian declaration that “the government that governs best, governs least.”
Even Tom Paine, the Revolutionary pamphleteer generally beloved by the secular left, declared: “While human society general counts as a blessing to the individual, government at the very best amounts to a necessary evil.” In other words, Tom Paine directly contradicts the Sorensen approach.
Mitt Romney has recently lashed out at Hillary Clinton for suggesting the replacement of an “on your own society” with a “working together society.” As the former Massachusetts aptly observes, even welfare-state societies in Europe have begun rejecting that approach. He suggests that Hillary’s “working together,” “shared responsibility” mantra means that “she wouldn’t be elected President of France today, never mind the United States.”
Even Americans near the bottom of the economic ladder feel instinctive (and appropriate) revulsion to the liberal message that “you can’t make it on your hope” and that government provides your only hope. Optimism about personal advancement represents a core American trait that cuts across all racial, educational and ideological lines.
If the Democrats follow Ted Sorensen’s advice, and Hillary Clinton’s recent rhetoric, their victory in 2008 hardly amounts to a foregone conclusdion.