22 Nov 2013

What if Kennedy had never died, and never been martyred?

The most worn out question in modern American politics is of course: “Who really shot JFK?”.

In distant second place is the question: “What would the Kennedy presidency have looked like if he had not been martyred?”

The answer is that the young dashing leader may well have ended his tenancy at the White House in failure and disgrace. Camelot could have ended up as a car crash.

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Marilyn Monroe joins Robert Kennedy (left) and JFK at a New York party after famously singing Happy Birthday to the President, 19 May, 1962. Picture credit: Getty

First of all, Kennedy in 1963, the year of his death, was cruising for re-election.

The main reason he flew down to Dallas on that fateful day was to thank the people of the Lone Star State – and his vice-president LBJ – for having delivered its electoral college votes in the very close 1960 election.

Kennedy was also schmoozing the state for the election that would take place the following November.

Having got re-elected, Kennedy would then have had to deal with the baggage accumulated during his first term.

There was civil rights legislation, which Kennedy had begun to introduce – but which he never pursued with the same dogged determination of his browbeating barnstorming successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson.

LBJ cajoled, threatened and blackmailed congressmen as only a former congressman can.

Moreover, civil rights legislation was only passed in the house out of deference to the martyred president.

Without Kennedy’s death the votes would never have been there. Please feel free at this stage to concoct yet another conspiracy theory about who really shot him.

Then there was Vietnam. The war consumed LBJ, who tried to micromanage the battlefield from the Oval Office. It also paralysed his presidency and led to him not seeking re-election.

America’s involvement in that corner of south east Asia was started by Kennedy, who first sent military advisers.

He firmly believed in the domino theory of stopping Communism in its tracks, and having stared down the Soviets over Cuba he probably thought he would be invincible over Vietnam.

There is no reason to suggest that he would have been any more effective as a commander in chief.

Finally there were the affairs. Even though the press was more deferential in those days I don’t for one minute believe that the insurgent, rebellious atmosphere of the late sixties would have wilfully ignored the president’s serial philandering.

Women’s lib was on the rise, and even though Jackie Kennedy was the embodiment of upper class fragrance and marital deference, young women would have rallied to her defence and turned away in disgust from horny Jack.22_ted_kennedy_g_w

Then there was the dalliance with Marilyn Monroe, which would eventually have leaked out of the White House to be splashed onto front pages around the world.

That story alone would have acted like a stimulus package for the newspaper industry.

If you want to imagine what JFK might have looked like all you need to do is remember his youngest brother (pictured), the late senator Edward Kennedy: blotchy, bloated and blamed for covering up the death of a mistress at Chappaquiddick.

There is one caveat to this gloomy scenario. America is a very forgiving country, even of its worst presidents.

Kennedy would have yo-yoed from being built up in his first term to getting knocked down in his second to find ultimate resurrection in retirement.

At the age of 88 he would have shuffled onto the set of the Oprah show. He would reveal all his sexual misdemeanours, beg forgiveness like the practised Catholic he was and give one last rousing speech at the Democrat convention of a young black senator called Barack Obama, who ended up regretting at times that he was re-elected to serve a second term having made history in his first.

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5 reader comments

  1. Philip says:
  2. Philip Edwards says:

    Matt,

    You spent ten years in the US living off the fat of their land and you learned…….b***** all, especially about the Kennedy presidency. How sad. How cheap.

    Take this: “America‚Äôs involvement in that corner of south east Asia was started by Kennedy, who first sent military advisers.”……..absolute b*******.

    The Yanks had been in Vietnam since 1945, following a short occupation by the Brits. When the French returned to IndoChina, their war against Ho Chi Minh’s nationalists was largely paid for by the US, who also supplied arms and “advisers.” While Kennedy was a senator he opposed French colonialism, and from the beginning warned such a war could never be won. It was Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers who injected 16,000 “advisers.” It was Kennedy who argued for neutralisation of Laos and then tried belatedly to withdraw from Vietnam. The historical record is clear – assuming you can be bothered to read it.

    Then there’s this: “Moreover, civil rights legislation was only passed in the house out of deference to the martyred president.”…….yet more b*******. Your smear is an insult to the decades long growing movement in the USA for civil rights – no, he didn’t push hard enough, but that was a political judgement due to his slender hold on Congress. But he still forecast his programme (and the subsequent legislation WAS his programme) would get through in 1964, as it did. Johnson, an ultra right Texan (as was Connally), would never have proposed such legislation of his own accord. You conveniently ignore Johnson’s notorious corruption and involvement in murder plots against those who threatened his future; this too is a matter of public record. Ask Bobby Baker – he’s still alive.

    The Marilyn Monroe nonsense?…. I challenge you to produce one scintilla of evidence for it. And given the man’s back problems so probably is most of the rest of the scurrilous garbage. If he had laid as many women as people like you claim he would be in a jar in a medical laboratory.

    Kennedy was no great hero, no builder of Camelot. He was just a man who gained high office, learned things even he hadn’t suspected, and got killed imperfectly trying to change the insane path his country’s Establishment had mapped out. You need only read his speech to American University in July 1963. Then you could look at what has happened to the USA in the fifty years since his presidency of less than three years.

    And that final paragraph gives your true intentions away. Whoever paid for all those Washington dinner and cocktail parties you attended must be satisfied it was a price worth paying.

    All of which means whatever respect I entertained for you has evaporated. You sold out……assuming you were ever on the side of truth.

    As I said, how sad.

  3. CGD says:

    At last, a reality check on JFK’s presidency. There is a delicate balance between respecting the feelings of those mourning him and yet not making him a martyr for greatness that never was his in so many areas. May he rest in peace, but may we learn from his mistakes.

  4. Andrew Dundas says:

    I share your doubt that the 1964 Civil Rights Act would have passed through Congress had it not been a signature issue of Jack Kennedy. Before ‘Dallas’, the Economist thought it was not at all certain that Kennedy would get re-elected, and that he was in Texas to drum up support.
    That all changed with his tragic assassination: Congress didn’t want to be seen to be rejecting his agenda. [Few US people are bigoted, and it would have passed after more fuss].
    A consequence is that the South readily switched to the party of Abraham Lincoln (Republicans) led by Gov. Connolly who had been a Democrat. Connolly had been wounded by the very bullet that had murdered his President; Connolly crossed the aisle because of the Civil Rights Act many of his Texas constituents resent even to this day.
    Jack Kennedy knew the cost of war – he was a wounded soldier too – I doubt if he would have pursued that Vietnam war with LBJ’s energy.
    [It’s worth recording that the 1964 Civil Rights Act also opposed discrimination against women and older workers: the US got there first on age and women’s issues].

  5. michael paglia says:

    you’ve said all that I feel, on this question. I was beginning to think that i was the only one to feel this way. thanks for expressing so adequately.
    he was imperfect, yes! then aren’t we all, I feel he more for his country than most others ever did. this purely an emotive response, nothing political, I don’t know enough to pass judgments upon the keepers of America. But if they are anything like the U.K leaders, then God help all Americans, because ours are bringing the U.K to the edge of instability.

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