The death of JFK speechwriter Ted Sorensen this week has been much in the news and the blogosphere. Writers have waxed poetic, or tried to, about the speeches he wrote and their impact on several generations. Some have suggested that we’d be hard-pressed to cite memorable lines from any presidential speeches since then. They’d be right.
The only exception I’d suggest is Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, whose Challenger disaster speech “They slipped the surly bonds of earth…to touch the face of God,” remarks on 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…,” and several other of her speeches stand out as beautiful, powerful and memorable.
In addition to the death of Ted Sorensen, last night’s election put me in mind of the political giants we’ve lost…and their Lilliputian counterparts of today.
For example, between 1960 and the mid-1980s, the majority and minority leaders of the Senate included Democrats Lyndon Johnson, Mike Mansfield and Robert Byrd, and Republicans Everett Dirkson, Hugh Scott and Howard Baker.
Their counterparts from the 1990s to today? Democrats George Mitchell, Tom Daschle and Harry Reid, and Republicans Trent Lott, Bill Frist and Mitch McConnell. Yawn.
Comparing Speakers of the House in the same time periods, we had Sam Rayburn, John McCormick, Carl Albert and Tip O’Neill between 1970 and 1990. Since then? Tom Foley, Newt Gingrich, Dennis Hastert and Nancy Pelosi. A sad bunch.
In addition, the Senate itself had many giants during the same 1970-1990 time period. They included Ted Kennedy, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Sam Nunn, Mark Hatfield, Lowell Weicker, Scoop Jackson.
And a gentleman who was elected to the Senate after he lost his presidential bid: Adlai Stevenson, III, Democrat – Illinois, 1970 to 1981. Their current Senate counterparts? I’d like to list them, but I’m crying too hard.
“Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you…”