After President Kennedy was assassinated, one of President Johnson’s most urgent tasks was to convince Kennedy’s staffers, who generally despised Johnson, to stay on. One of the toughest nuts was Ted Sorensen, who would say of Johnson, “he personified the kind of hyperbole and hypocrisy that defined the worst aspects of politics in my eyes.”
Sorensen’s hatred of Johnson could only have been heightened by his grief over Kennedy’s death:
Of all Kennedy’s men, none had been hit harder. McGrory had seen him, at Andrews, “white-faced and stricken, unseeing and unhearing”; as Johnson walked through the West Wing on the way to his office, Ted Sorensen had been sitting alone at the Cabinet table, weeping. “Kindly, strongly, generously he told me how sorry he was, how deeply he felt for me, how well he knew what I had been to President Kennedy for eleven years, and that he, LBJ, now needed me even more.” Sorensen said, he was to recall, “Good-bye and thank you, Mr. President.” Hanging up the phone, he broke into tears again, “unable to face the fact that I had just addressed that title to someone other than John F. Kennedy.
A couple of days later, Johnson went back to ask Sorensen for his help.
“I do not recall much” of that meeting, Sorensen was to say, “but I was blunt and unsmiling.” Most of the meeting, Sorensen was to say, “was devoted to his request that I stay: ‘I need you more than he needed you,’” but as best as he could recall, the response was, “I’ve given eleven years of my life to John Kennedy, and for those eleven years he was the only human being that mattered to me.”
Hard to imagine ever loving a speaker as completely as Sorensen loved Kennedy.
But wouldn’t it be wonderful?