Hear How He Roars

By Jason Schwartz | Boston Magazine |

1. HIS BROTHERS’ SPEAKER

You don’t grow up around John and Robert Kennedy without picking up their oratorical flourishes. Longtime JFK speechwriter Ted Sorensen notes that Ted Kennedy utilizes the same "soaring eloquence and poetic allusions" as his brothers did. Kennedy also manages to find a balance between his two siblings’ strengths. "He’s a relaxed, often jolly presence up there on the stage," Sorensen says. "JFK was sometimes seen as cool, and RFK was sometimes seen as red hot, and both of those have some disadvantages. But Ted is up there as a good guy everybody likes."

2. PREPPING FOR SUCCESS

Despite being a highly emotional speaker, Kennedy isn’t much for extemporaneity. Biographer Adam Clymer says the quality of a Kennedy speech depends on how much practice time the senator puts in; for the big ones, he puts in a lot. That may make him inconsistent on the stump, but at least there’s no fooling voters with platitudes. "He’s at his best," Clymer says, "if he cares about the speech’s substance."

3. GET OUT THE QUOTE

Kennedy is a voracious reader with a knack for literary references. But instead of citing authors directly, he slips eloquent quotes into his orations, notes Clymer. At John F. Kennedy Jr.’s funeral, Kennedy borrowed from William Butler Yeats’s "In Memory of Major Robert Gregory": "We dared to think…that this John Kennedy would live to comb gray hair, with his beloved Carolyn by his side. But, like his father, he had every gift but length of years."

4. JOKES ON HIM

Just when it looks as if Kennedy’s about to go from impassioned to crazed, he settles himself down with humor. It’s a skill that Congressman Barney Frank still marvels at, after 27 years alongside Kennedy in Washington. "There’s a mild element of self-mockery that he’s able to do just right, so he defuses people’s resistance," Frank says. "I’ve never seen anybody else able to do that."

5. HE’LL DO IT LIVE!

Kennedy feeds directly off a crowd’s emotion, and that makes him more booming preacher than silky orator. Kennedy’s presence is so strong, in fact, that Frank says it took the senator years to modulate it for TV. ("Stop yelling, I’m at home!" Frank jokes.) Now he knows how to tailor speeches for screen and stage. But it’s undeniable: The true Kennedy experience takes place in person.

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