Passing the Torch: Kennedy's Touch on Obama's Words

It's no accident the Kennedy magic has infused itself into the campaign of Barack Obama.

Theodore "Ted" Sorensen, the adviser whom John F. Kennedy once called his "intellectual blood bank," is lending his unabashed support -- and eloquence -- to the Obama campaign.

The Kennedy Connection

Oprah, another gushing Obama supporter, may have star power, but Sorensen has brain power.

At the age of 24, he joined the staff of the newly elected Sen. John F. Kennedy and later helped him win the presidency, calling on Americans to pass the torch to a new generation.

The legendary speechwriter helped Kennedy craft the now-famous 1961 Inaugural address in which the new president proclaimed, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis -- when Sorensen was 34 -- he penned the letter to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev that historians say saved the world from nuclear destruction.

Today, at 79 years old and blind, Sorensen has a new mission: to resurrect Camelot. And it seems the Obama campaign is listening.

"I've given them a phrase or suggestion or two," Sorensen admits.

As for all the comparisons that have been drawn between Obama and Kennedy, "I probably started it," he told

Torch Passed to Obama's Speechwriters

Sorensen has not only given his support and advice to the Obama camp, he's grown close to the senator's young speechwriters as well.

The candidate's deputy writer -- Adam Frankel -- assisted Sorensen with his memoirs, which Harper Collins will publish in time for his 80th birthday in May.

"We've become close friends," Sorensen said of Frankel, 26, one of Obama's wordsmiths.

"He knows me and my style and JFK's style and his speeches. It's surprising the little touches that creep in to whatever he writes for Obama."

Even Obama's Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., has acknowledged Obama's rhetorical skills.

"You campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose," Clinton said in a bit of a backhanded compliment delivered before Super Tuesday.

Youth vs. Experience

Sorensen said he was impressed with Obama when he met the senator in 2006. But all he heard was Obama was too young and inexperienced.

"That's what they said about Kennedy," he said. "Everyone said Kennedy had no chance because he was baptized a Roman Catholic. They say it about Obama because he's black."

Clinton captured the endorsements of several of Robert F. Kennedy's kin, including Kennedy's son Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental lawyer, and daughter Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland.

But Obama is largely ahead in the Kennedy endorsement race, earning a seal of approval from Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., Ethel Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy's widow, and Caroline Kennedy,


"Kennedy, like Obama, was one of those extraordinary individuals who was completely authentic, at home with himself and in his skin," said Sorensen. "He knew who he was, unlike so many in politics who are putting on an act all the time."

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Seemingly frail, Sorensen suffered a stroke seven years ago that took his sight, but he still remains active and agreed to talk about the Cuban Missile Crisis -- a topic he re-examines in his new book -- to students at the Peddie School in New Jersey this week.

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