With less than a week left before Barack Obama makes his inaugural address, he might heed instructions President John F. Kennedy gave to his speechwriter: "add style & eloquence," "shorten sentences & words," "eliminate I" and most important, keep it short.
Those notes from Kennedy speech writer Ted Sorensen are part of a new exhibit that opened Thursday at the John F. Kennedy Museum & Presidential Library, featuring original drafts of Kennedy's landmark address and its most famous line: "Ask not what your country can do for you &emdash; ask what you can do for your country."
Ted Sorensen, Kennedy's close adviser and speechwriter, said he sees many parallels with Obama. Both were young senators who were told they had no chance at the presidency. Both reached out to young voters, both focused on diplomacy in foreign policy and both said they felt deeply about the plight of the underprivileged.
"The control of arms, the search for peace and the need to help those who are poor and miserable in the developing countries of the world - it wouldn't surprise me if some of those themes stressed by Kennedy are echoed, in his own words, in Obama's talk," Sorensen said Thursday.
The exhibit includes the earliest surviving draft of Kennedy's address, Sorensen's notes describing Kennedy's instructions for the speech, another draft handwritten by Kennedy, and pages from the final speech used during his inauguration on Jan. 20, 1961.
Sorensen's notes on Kennedy's directions for the speech include "add style & eloquence," "shorten sentences & words," and "eliminate I."
Sorensen said Kennedy told him to avoid domestic issues at a time when the Cold War was at its height and the prospect of nuclear war was on the minds of Americans, and stressed brevity.
"He believed that those who drone on lose their audience and their impact," Sorensen said.
Curator Stacey Bredhoff said Kennedy's call for public service and freedom around the world still resonates today, particularly for those who remember hearing his speech live.
Also on display at the museum are the family Bible Kennedy used to take the oath of office and the dress, coat, muff and hat Jacqueline Kennedy wore to the inauguration.
"We are marking the inauguration of another new president, and so the idea is that people would be interested in maybe looking back at President Kennedy's inaugural address because it is widely viewed as one of the most enduring inaugural addresses in U.S. history," she said.
The exhibit will run through 2009.