November 16, 2013

"If Kennedy Lived: The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy: An Alternate History."

A book by Jeff Greenfield that's getting a lot of attention this week (with the 50th anniversary of the JFK murder coming up next Friday). I don't know what Greenfield came up with as he broke #4 of my "10 rules for writing about the 50th anniversary of the day John F. Kennedy was shot," but the "If Kennedy Lived" fantasy was thoroughly examined by Meade and me in August 2012:
In 1964, JFK is reelected, with LBJ as VP. The GOP does not yet do its big shift to conservatism, and its defeated candidate is Nelson Rockefeller (whose VP choice is William Scranton). Barry Goldwater rises up in 1968, and he is successful, defeating LBJ (who has Hubert Humphrey as his VP). Goldwater's VP is William Miller (as it was, in actual history, in 1964), and Goldwater is an immensely successful President, winning the war in Vietnam, leaving civil rights issues to the states (and in the process preserving federalism values, to be used to excellent effect in succeeding years), and foreseeing and avoiding the problems of dependency on imported oil. Goldwater is reelected in 1972, defeating Hubert Humphrey (who has Scoop Jackson as his VP).

In 1976, Bobby Kennedy is the Democratic nominee (with Walter Mondale as VP), and he wins, defeating William Miller (who has Bob Dole as his VP). Bobby gets health-care reform, called "Bobbycare." But Bobbycare goes too far, and RFK goes down in 1980, crushed by Ronald Reagan (whose VP is George H.W. Bush). Reagan is reelected in 1984, defeating Walter Mondale (who has Geraldine Ferraro as his VP).

In 1988, it's Michael Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen against George H.W. Bush and Jack Kemp, and — no big surprise — Bush and Kemp win. But they're in for only one term. Blamed for the economy — stupid! — they lose, in 1992, to Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Clinton and Gore are reelected in 1992 (facing Jack Kemp and his VP choice Tommy Thompson).

In 2000, it's Gore (with Lieberman) against George W. Bush (with Cheney), and Bush wins. In 2004, John Kerry (with John Edwards) lose to Bush and Cheney. In 2008, it's John Edwards against Mitt Romney, and Mitt Romney wins. (We won't worry about their VPs right now.) Challenged by Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney is reelected in 2012. And we don't get our first woman President. But the Romney terms come to a close. Now it's 2012, and Hillary goes for it again, only to be defeated in the primaries by another "first," the possible first black President, this fascinating upstart with the funny name Barack Hussein Obama. (But America, having avoided dependence on foreign oil, thanks to Barry Goldwater, never got dragged into crazy interactions with those Middle East countries, and there was never a 9/11 terrorist attack or an Iraq war, or any of those things that would make "Hussein" seem truly odd.)

Speaking of firsts, there's a first coming up on the GOP side, a woman! It's the hyper-competent and stunningly beautiful Sarah Palin. With 8 years as Governor of Alaska, her executive experience and record of accomplishment wow America. (She was term-limited in 2014, and spent the next 2 years running for President.) And so in 2016, we have our big first, the first woman President: Sarah Palin!

48 comments:

Michael K said...

I can live with that scenario. I remember our scenario of the time. JFK 1960 and 1964, RFK 1968 and 1972, Teddy 1976 and 1980, then it would be 1984.

Hagar said...

Kennedy might have been re-elected in 1964, but he was headed for big trouble with Congress when he was killed, and would not have been seen as a successful president.
(It was LBJ that put through JFK's "signature legislation," but LBJ has become a "vanished commissar" in Democrat history.
However, I think Goldwater's celebrated comments, "...moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." and that he would leave the Viet Nam war to the generals, etc., would have killed his campaign anyway.

betamax3000 said...

If Kennedy Had Lived He Would've Been Severely Mentally Disabled from the Bullet Wound to His Head.

He Would Resign the Presidency, Although the Conspiracy-Minded Would Always Say He Was Pushed Out Against His Will.

Through the Years There Would Be the Occasional Telephoto Picture of Him in His Wheelchair and Sunglasses at the Shore of Martha's Vineyard, Blanket Around Him, Motionless Save for the Trembles and Twitches That Have Afflicted His Hands.

These Photos Would Always Bring on a New Wave of Muted Sadness in the Country; Every Subsequent President Would Live Under This Living Shadow.

Jackie Would Be Vilified When it is Discovered That She Has Been Having an Affair with Onassis: She is Vilified, and Shunned By the Elite, Albeit with a Sense of Pity: Her name Elicits Scorn from the Common Man.

Teddy Kennedy Would Occasionally Mention That He Had Recently Had a Good Talk with His Brother Jack, That Jack Still Had Wisdom and Could Communicate Haltingly Despite the Head Trauma: the People Know Ted is Lying But Still Wish to Believe.

In the Late Eighties a Book Comes Out From a Former Nurse for the Afflicted Former President. It Spares No Detail in its Description of the Dysfunction of the Kennedy Family, and Dwells in Detail on Just How Debilitated JFK is Now: Unable to Communicate Except for Odd Grunts and Cries, Ghastly Wailing at Night, the Inability to Control His Bowels. People Decry the Book, But it Becomes the Biggest Selling Book of the Century.

And Yet He Lives, and America Is Always Waiting for the Second Shoe to Drop.




Ambrose said...

Stephen King's 11-22-63 is a fun read - though at 800 or so pages, it takes a little commitment. At the end, he offers a brief, scary, alternative history. (Is it alternative or alternate? - I think the former, but am not sure.)

Lem said...

Kennedy is the prayer liberals recite to assure themselves and others that they are doing the right thing.

Joe said...

Why do JFK alternate histories ignore JFK's Addison's disease, serious physical problems and addictions due to that. Why ignore just how disastrously bad the first two years of JFK's presidency actually was? And that JFK was extremely anti-communist and likely would have escalated the Vietnam war, though wouldn't have micromanaged it like LBJ.

How about the alternate history where Jackie Kennedy walks in on JFK getting blown by some bimbo and shoots them both?

ironrailsironweights said...

Google Image search "nude paparazzo photos of Jackie Kennedy Onassis" and you'll see why she was a truly wonderful woman. Granted, back in 1973, when the photos were taken, almost all women were wonderful. Not today, God damn it.

Peter

rcocean said...

More accurate alternate history:

Goldwater runs in '64 and loses. JFK escalates Vietnam war and then dies while having sex with Jane Fonda. LBJ is re-elected in '68 then does pretty much everything Nixon does. Bobby Kennedy is nominated in '76 wins - screws up even worse than carter -which leads to Reagan and pretty much everything we have now.

rcocean said...

JFK was the 2nd biggest fraud ever presented to the American people. The no. 1 fraud was FDR. I'm writing about the difference between reality and there public image. Go look at pictures/films from the 30/40s its almost impossible to figure out that FDR was a guy in wheel chair dying of heart disease. JFK was presented as some super-heathy football playing jock full of "vigor" and a great family man who wrote great books on the side. LOL!

betamax3000 said...

If JFK Had Lived Amanda McCracken Would Not Be a Thirty-Five-Year-Old Virgin, For it Would Be a Different America.

Don't Get Me Going About Snuggle House.

betamax3000 said...

If Lee Harvey Oswald Had Lived He Would Have Groupies.

betamax3000 said...

If Bobby Kennedy Had Lived He Would Have Herpes.

CWJ said...
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CWJ said...
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CWJ said...

He broke your rule. Why are you blogging him? If you want to post your's and Meade's alternative history, the post it. Don't rely upon a rule breaker for a crutch.

CWJ said...

To break your own rule.

Biff said...

On cue, Peggy Noonan writes "Why We Still Talk About JFK."

St. George said...

The very week JFK was killed LBJ was on the cover of LIFE magazine. Not in a good way. He was being investigated for corruption--for having misused his Senate seat in various ways to enrich himself.

And if memory serves me a move was afoot in Congress to investigate him. LBJ knew it. JFK knew it.

Odds of LBJ being on the ticket in 1964? Not good. In fact, JFK was supposedly interested in future Duke Univ. president Terry Sanford, then NC governor, to replace him

Sorun said...

I heard some dopey history professor on NPR (of course) recently masturbating about an alternative future if Gore had won in 2000. Gore would have done this and prevented that with perfect timing, almost like he had 20/20 hindsight or something. How boring.

The Godfather said...

I never had much use for JFK while he was president (but de mortuis nil nisi bonum), and I thought that Goldwater would be a good candidate to run against him. They were both divisive candidates. When Kennedy was assassinated and Johnson became president (I was 20), I thought that the nation was looking for healing and consensus and that Johnson could offer that and Goldwater couldn't. I favored Rockefeller (but I don't think I gave enough weight to his divorce).

In retrospect, I don't think Goldwater, if elected, would have been a miracle president. He would not, I think, have made Johnson's mistakes in Viet Nam, but he might well have made different mistakes that would have been just as bad. If he had "left civil rights to the states" that would have been a domestic disaster. I'd like to think that Goldwater's basic good sense and good heart would have led him to support (perhaps in modified form) the civil rights and voting rights acts. The big problems came with the aftermath of the civil rights revolution, when anti-discrimination was replaced by affirmative action, quotas, disparate impact, and all the other social engineering stuff. I'd like to think that Goldwater would have saved us from that. Actually, if he'd lived, JFK might have done so, too.

madAsHell said...

Monday morning quarterbacking.
Because he saved PT-109....or maybe not.

David said...

Kennedy didn't live.

Who knows how it would have turned out?

Nobody, of course. But our problems would not be a lot different today, it seems to me.

Unless of course someone set off the nukes.

eddie willers said...

What if John Lennon had lived?

Better yet....what if he'd never met Yoko?

somefeller said...

I'm surprised no one has chimed in with the "JFK was a conservative and the Democrats would never elect him now" line yet. That's a popular line among conservatives these days, now that Ronald Reagan is dead and it's no longer cool to praise FDR, as Reagan liked to do. Though I'm not surprised that conservatives like that line, given their paucity of heroes from that era other than George Wallace (a Democrat, who showed the bipartisan support for a certain species of conservatism at one time).

ironrailsironweights said...

As long as we're talking about JFK and alternative history there's something even more intriguing than the what-if-he-had-lived question. Just two days after his inauguration in 1961 a Air Force bomber broke up in the air over Goldsboro, North Carolina. It carried two hydrogen bombs, one of which had a warhead. The warhead-equipped bomb floated down on a parachute* and was found in a tree beside a quiet country road.

Hydrogen bombs originally had three safety switches designed to prevent accidental detonation. Only a short time earlier the Air Force had added a fourth switch as an extra measure of safety. Examination of the bomb in the tree showed that three of the safety switches had failed, and only the fourth, recently installed switch had prevented a four-megaton detonation.

Had the bomb detonated it would have destroyed everything and everyone in a radius of almost ten miles. Even worse, as it would have exploded at ground level rather than as an airburst, it would have spread deadly fallout over a wide area. A large swath of northeastern North Carolina would have received an immediately lethal amount, people in either Richmond or Norfolk (depending on winds) would have had to evacuate in a hurry or shelter underground for several days, and even in Washington it would have been prudent to stay indoors for a day or two.

I get the idea that the failure of the fourth safety switch would have had a MUCH greater impact on the future of the United States and the world than JFK's "non-assassination" ever would.

* = attaching the bomb to a parachute meant that during war the bomber crew would have had a chance to get a safe distance away before detonation

Peter

Jim S. said...

In a book on the Kennedys I saw a poster someone made in the mid to late 1960s -- at least before Robert Kennedy threw his hat into the ring for the 1968 election -- that projected Robert Kennedy as president from 1980-88. In fact, it had the exact dates: January 20, 1981 to January 19, 1989. I found it almost unbearably tragic to know that he had been dead for 20 years when the latter date rolled around.

dustbunny said...

I won't break the rule of writing about where i was when JFK was killed...however! I will mention my quite vivid memory of seeing around that time, a picture of the four boys from Liverpool playing for the Queen Mother. I think it was in Time, Lennon's line about "rattle your jewelry" was quoted and they looked very interesting, and certainly different. I still had not heard them but it was a powerful image for a overly emotional 13yr old who was convinced the world had ended and I was going to be sad forever...

Clyde said...

It brings to mind the February 1977 issue of National Lampoon magazine, the Grand Fifth Term Inaugural Issue - Kennedy's First 6000 Days. It's premise is an alternate history where Jackie is shot rather than JFK (song title from the era: "She Didn't Die In Vain, She Died In Dallas.") and the the two-term limit on presidential terms is removed.

Cover art shown here.

Bob R said...

I take it that rule number 11 is not, "Do not blog about books/articles that violate rules 1-10."

WestVirginiaRebel said...

If JFK lives, doesn't that butterfly away RFK running, as LBJ or perhaps Terry Sanford would be VP and presumably get the nomination with Hubert Humphrey as his running mate? And there's no guarantee that Nixon, perhaps emboldened by a growing number of Kennedy scandals, wouldn't have run again and won, too.

Alternate scenario: Robert Kennedy decides to run for governor of California against Ronald Reagan and still gets killed in L.A. in 1968. Ted Kennedy still has Chappaquiddick, right after his brother's presidency. JFK gets divorced and goes into seclusion until his death sometime in the late '70's.

cokaygne said...

I have not allowed myself to wallow in this nostalgia, but things and people do change.

In 1962 there was an election for the reamainder of JFK's senatorial term. In the Democratic primary the heir apparent was Eddie McCormack, MA Attorney General and newphew of a political boss. Naturally, my working class, Irish Catholic parents supported him.

But that was before JFK's undistinguished and unaccomplished younger brother decided to campaign for the seat. With tons of money and a fawning press, Ted won the primary handily. The GOP candidate, George Cabot Lodge, had an ancestry that combined two families of whom it was said, "The Cabots speak only to the Lodges and the Lodges speak only to God." Without doubt old Joe Kennedy, who acted as if he was God, was the recipient of many a slight at the hands of those representatives of Boston's anti-Irish Catholic establishment.

Enter a candidate whom I supported, H. Stuart Hughes, son of another pillar of the GOP establishment, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes. Much to the dismay of my woking class Irish Catholic family, i supported Hughes because he was a leftist, as was I.

Ted won of course. One could spin an alternate history that if Hughes had not taken WASP votes away from Lodge (or did he take leftist votes away from Ted?), subsequent history would have been much different, although Ted actually did win easily. For example, maybe RFK would have run for Senator in 1964 and easily defeated Senator Lodge.

In 1964 Ted won a full Senate term in a walk after the media nominated him for sainthood after he survived a plane crash. RFK would have received a bit more scrutiny, but would also have won. As a more conservative Democratic Senate candidate in MA, RFK would not have been campaigning in that LA hotel. His Senate career would have been more moderate than Ted's. As a committee chairman he would have been happy persecuting labor leaders and fellow travelers. He might not have weakened Carter by running against him in primaries.

No matter. In 1968, i was a supporter of Gene McCarthy and furious when RFK decided to run for president. Either way, Nixon was going to win because the country was tired of Vietnam and liberal over reach.

Nixon was undone by Watergate and i think the media might have ignored similar shenanigans by a President Bobby. Certainly the Kennedys were capable of that and more besides without any media scrutiny.

And so it goes. Today i am a strong fiscal conservative and social liberal who is amazed at the mendacity and insincerity of almost all politicians and wonders why people vote for these turkeys.

cokaygne said...

How about the similarities between the Kennedys and the Corleones. The Godfather is old Joe Kennedy. Sonny Corleone is young Joe Kennedy who dies before taking over the family business. Michael Corleone is the Ivy-educated, charismatic but ruthless son who inherits the business as did JFK. Tom Hagan the ruthless consigliere is RFK, and Fredo the dimwit is Ted. Going to the mattresses against the rest of the mafia is the war in Vietnam which devastates and family and leaves no winners.

Michael Ryan said...

In today's climate, Kennedy would be torn to pieces.

Really, sir? You're appointing how many of your own relatives to cabinet posts?

Hagar said...

JFK not only ran on a platform of "economy in government," he tried to implement it.
I do not know if it was across the Government, but the Kennedy administration ordered a RIF (Reduction In Force), I think of 10%, but not sure of that, in the Corps of Engineers.
The CoE of course reacted by firing the construction inspectors and field engineers, so that the construction projects went to Hell; the complaints came flooding in, and the administration, by then being in trouble with Congress all around, beat a hasty retreat, and everybody they could find and more to boot, were re-hired.
But they did try.
JFK was his father's son, and if there was one thing Old Joe was famous for, it was reading balance sheets and cutting costs.

Hagar said...

That JFK could appoint his brother Bobby Attorney General is indeed remarkable, and it is still hard to understand how he could get away with that long before achieving sainthood in the Democrat pantheon, but it was a master-stroke that prevented any chance of a Federal investigation into Old Joe's "business" dealings.

David said...

"No matter. In 1968, i was a supporter of Gene McCarthy and furious when RFK decided to run for president. Either way, Nixon was going to win because the country was tired of Vietnam and liberal over reach."

Me too. Bobby came in only after McCarthy had proven that the river was navigable. Of course it cost Bobby his life. What a terrible time.

David said...

Hagar said...
That JFK could appoint his brother Bobby Attorney General is indeed remarkable . . .


Twas legal then though JFK recognized the political downside. He defused that with humor, joking about announcing the appointment by opening the door at 2 AM and whispering "It's Bobby." But in those days, we trusted the government more. We assumed that the Justice Department was supposed to enforce laws, not be a weapon and shield for the executive branch.

Hagar said...

If Kennedy had lived, details of the Kennedy brothers' private behavior would surely have begun to leak out.
Living and aging Kennedys would have been a whole different reality to live with.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Here's my take.

Biggest change if Kennedy had not been assassinated? No 26th Amendment, and that would be a GREAT thing indeed.

Allowing 18 year old's to vote is beyond idiotic, and causes us no end of trouble. They are, as a group, insufficiently mature, especially with America's extended childhood culture.

I doubt Kennedy would have continued conscription and/or the Vietnam war. No conscription, no "oh, so I'm old enough to die for my country (by force), but not old enough to vote?"

EDH said...

Jello Biafra would be a short-order cook and the Dead Kennedys would not have garnered their transgressive notoriety.

cokaygne said...

David said, "But in those days, we trusted the government more. We assumed that the Justice Department was supposed to enforce laws, not be a weapon and shield for the executive branch."

All we knew about government came from WaPo, NYT, and the TV networks which hired people like Cronkite to read the headlines from those newspapers. Ben Bradlee of the WaPo was a personal friend. End of story.

Terry Josiah said...

John F Kennedy would have had to resign due to a sex scandal.
He would say its due to his health, though that also could have been a legitimate excuse too.

As for Vietnam, read the book "The Kennedy imprisonment" by Garry Wills. He makes a very convenience case that JFK would not have withdrawn from Vietnam and destroys the myth that JFK handled the Cuban missile crisis wisely.

david7134 said...

What I remember about the Kennedy years is that he was truly hated by the people here in the South. He almost got us into a nuclear war and if not for the courage of Khrushchev, we would have had WWIII. The people in the South were able to figure this out. I have read a good bit on Kennedy's heroic episode with his PT boat in WWII. This is all fiction. Kennedy was going to be court martialed for his dereliction in duty in have his boat sunk and men killed. His father turned it into a heroic event.

I was discussing the Kennedy killing with a guy my age yesterday and we definitely had similar experiences at our high schools. On hearing the announcement that Kennedy had been killed, the students began to cheer and the teachers danced on their desk.

bbkingfish said...

David7134 said...

"What I remember about the Kennedy years is that he was truly hated by the people here in the South. He almost got us into a nuclear war and if not for the courage of Khrushchev, we would have had WWIII. The people in the South were able to figure this out."

I can attest to the accuracy of David's remembrances.

In the early 60s, the people of the South were absolutely in love with Khruschev. Their enthusiasm for the Russian leader was second only to their affection for Fidel Castro. These two joined other favorite traitors like Benedict Arnold and Robert E. Lee at the top of the pantheon of patron saints of southern values.

Phaedrus said...

"If Kennedy Lived" fantasy was thoroughly examined by Meade and me in August 2012

OK I must be the only one that this was going a whole different direction.

Not wanting to be slapped by Ms Althouse or punched by Meade I'll leave it at that.

St. George said...

I'll second bbkingfish by adding that when I was a boy in the South and my parents went on trips, my mother always insisted that we stop at Nikita's for lunch.

It's pretty much forgotten now, but after ol' Krus retired and came to live in Mississippi, he set up a pretty darn successful chain of hamburger drive-ins.

You could get an Uncle Tom sandwich for a quarter, and the ketchup was always Red!

Balfegor said...

If Kennedy had lived, I think there's a good chance he'd have continued to back those batshit crazy CIA plots all over the world. Under Kennedy, the CIA would probably have covertly backed a coup d'├ętat against Park Chong-hee, just like they did with Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam and Abd al-Karim Qasim in Iraq. With predictably awful results.

If Kennedy had lived, my grandparents and my mother and uncles and aunts would probably have been lined up against a wall and shot.

It was a tragedy for America that he was assassinated. And broadly speaking, I think he stood for sensible things. Lower taxes. Massive military build up. Going to the moon. But in international relations, he was a blunderer of the first order. Worse than Carter. Or Obama.

Donald Lawn said...

I am the author of a book, “The Memoirs of John F, Kennedy: A Novel” which delves deeply into the question presented by this blog - “What sort of world would we inhabit if, fifty years ago, John F. Kennedy had recovered fully from bullet wounds inflicted at Dealey Plaza and gone on to fulfill a second term as president?”

For all his faults I admire JFK, and it is reflected in the book. If anyone is interested in a well-researched alternative fictional account of “what might have been?” which ponders the politics and personalities of all those involved in the early sixties- give it a read.