Former Advisers Talk Experiences, Politics

Two former high-level presidential advisers took the stage at the John F. Kennedy forum yesterday, reflecting on lessons learned while working in the White House and looking to the present day to offer guidance for President Barack Obama’s administration.

Ted Sorensen—who served as special counsel, adviser, and speech writer to John F. Kennedy ’40—and Ken Duberstein—the White House chief of staff for President Ronald Reagan—each provided advice to the current administration about the best strategies for governing effectively.

Sorensen said he would like to see the Obama administration move out of permanent campaign mode.

“Once you’re president you don’t need to worry about what’s going to be in the Washington Post,” he said. “He’s got a long time before he’s got to start his re-election campaign.”

The two former officials touched on the subject of a recent leak in The New York Times in which the president had asked New York Governor David A. Paterson not to seek re-election.


Duberstein suggested the leak may have been intentional.

“I may say about the governor of New York, it looked to me like it was a planned leak,” he said.

Duberstein offered some general advice for the administration.

“Governing is not about 100 percent solutions, it’s about 80 percent solutions,” he said.

Dubserstein added that Reagan used to tell his subordinates that he would compromise with the other side of the aisle in order to achieve most of his objectives.

According to Christopher J. Hollyday ’11, the chairman of the IOP’s forum committee, between 200 and 300 people attended the event, which was simultaneously broadcast on CSPAN’s Web site.

The event will be replayed on the CSPAN broadcast station tomorrow evening, according to Bill P. Purcell, director of the Institute of Politics.

“It’s not unheard of,” Purcell said about the event airing on the public affairs cable network, “but it tells you this was a very special event.”

Sorensen and Duberstein, both former White House heavyweights, answered questions from David Gergen, the director of the Center for Public Leadership, a Harvard professor, and former presidential adviser himself, on a variety of subjects.

Besides discussing the current administration, both Sorensen and Duberstein addressed major obstacles they had to face during their times in the White House.

Sorensen spoke about the Kennedy administration’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, while Duberstein, who took over after the Iran-Contra scandal, told the audience about how he worked to help recover Reagan’s then deflated image.

—Staff writer Eric P. Newcomer can be reached at