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.
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.
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.