Optional diplomacy

Sorensen lashes out at administration’s disregard of 4th Amendment

In an unabashedly partisan speech punctuated by jabs at the Republicans and wistful recollections of Camelot, Theodore C. Sorensen, the chief speechwriter and close adviser to President John F. Kennedy, directed his most acerbic remarks at the current administration.

Fletcher Dean Stephen W. Bosworth and Theodore Sorensen © ELLEN CALLAWAY

Sorensen’s speech February 9 at the Fletcher School was titled “Presidential Trashing of American Law and Diplomacy,” but there was no mistaking his central target.

Noting he was speaking at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, he tore into the Bush administration for regarding “law” and “diplomacy” as “optional.” Referring to the administration’s controversial policy of surveillance of Americans as part of the war on terrorism and its lengthy detention of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo, he charged the administration with “bypassing the Fourth Amendment,” which protects citizens against unreasonable search and seizures. He also praised former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor for her view that where the rights of citizens are concerned, “a state of war is not a blank check.”

Sorensen, 78, showed the residual effects of a stroke he suffered several years ago that has impaired his vision. Struggling to pour a glass of water, he quipped, “Don’t you worry about my eye sight. I have more vision than the president of the United States.”

Asked why the Democrats have not been effective in making their case against the administration’s controversial foreign policy, he mused, “Someone said—Andy Young told me it was Julian Bond—that when you have an administration that’s reckless, you can’t have an opposition that’s spineless.”

When a student asked if the administration’s policies on domestic spying rose to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” he replied, “It’s a whole lot more serious than fooling around with an intern.” The crowd roared with laughter.

When asked what the Democratic position should be on Iraq, he said that Democrats need to take their cue from Republicans, who understand the value of short sound bites. “Three words,” he said. “Stop the killing.”

Asked at a private dinner the question he has parried more than 3,000 times, by his own count, as to whether he wrote all of Kennedy’s memorable inaugural address—the one containing the phrase “Ask not what your country can do for you”—Sorensen replied, “My answer is ask not.”

Terry Ann Knopf is the media relations manager for the Fletcher School. She can be reached at terry.knopf@tufts.edu.