I Still Believe He Cribbed It From Khalil Gibran

A couple of academics are getting their knickers up in a twist over John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address, arguing over whether the famous “Ask Not” piece was written by a speechwriter, and Edward Wyatt at the NY Times reviews their arguments.

In “Ask Not: The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech That Changed America,” Thurston Clarke wrote last year that “important and heretofore overlooked documentary evidence” proves that Kennedy was “the author of the most immortal and poetic passages of his inaugural address,” including the famous line that gives the book its title, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

But in “Sounding the Trumpet: The Making of John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address” (Ivan R. Dee), to be published in July, Richard J. Tofel, a lawyer and a former assistant publisher of The Wall Street Journal, concludes that “if we must identify” one man as the author of the speech, “that man must surely be not John Kennedy but Theodore Sorensen.”

Me, I still believe Kennedy cribbed it from Arab-American poet Khalil Gibran. These lines were translated in 1958:

Are you a politician who says to himself: ‘I will use my country for my own benefit’? If so, you are naught but a parasite living on the flesh of others. Or are you a devoted patriot, who whispers into the ear of his inner self: ‘I love to serve my country as a faithful servant.’ If so, you are an oasis in the desert, ready to quench the thirst of the wayfarer.