Our Better Angels

Theodore Sorensen died yesterday. 

For those in the dark, Ted Sorensen was Special Advisor and chief speechwriter for JFK. He was the man who wrote much of JFK’s Pulitzer winning book, Profiles in Courage, as well as the author of such iconic lines as “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Sorensen was a fellow who always intrigued me. There are many like him who were the voices of the presidency. JFK called Sorensen his “intellectual blood bank” from which he made withdrawals often.

Image: John F. Kennedy;Theodore C. SorensenThere may be some who prefer a Reaganite, Peggy Noonan. She wrote the speech given by the president at the 40th anniversary of D-Day. “These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war. Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender’s poem. You are men who in your ‘lives fought for life . . . and left the vivid air signed with your honor’.”

I have always been a fan of our 16th president who wrote most of his own words, including some of my favorite ever written: “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and every patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely as they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” Yeah, Abe had some game!

Being a lover of history and, these days, a writer, I have always admired anyone who can demonstrate a mastery of the language. It isn’t that I simply love lofty rhetoric, although I do, it’s more an appreciation for those who at least attempt to raise the level of political discourse in this world. With soaring oratory, lofty ideals and a focus on what could be, these Americans, both presidents and their muses, inspired the Greatest Generation, space exploration, and the salvation of the Union itself.

Listen to the tone of political debate in this country today. Listen among your friends, the talking heads on TV, and the candidates themselves. Do any of them, ever, even once, seem as though they are touched by the better angels of our nature?

Listen to these shrill voices who are only interested in winning today’s news cycle. They jockey for the sound bite of the day, trying not to elevate the debate, but score cheap punchlines at the expense of their opponent, and of our collective civility.

We should expect more.

We must expect more of those desiring to lead us. On Tuesday we vote. Ask yourself whether you are voting for someone or are you simply voting out of spite and anger and petulance. We owe it to those who came before us to do better than that. We owe it to the “brightest and the best” of Kennedy’s cabinet, to the “boys of Pointe Du Hoc”, and to the men and women in “every patriot grave”.

We owe it to all of them, and to those who are next.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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