Book Review – If Kennedy Had Lived, by Jeff Greefield


It’s one of the more beguiling questions in history. What if John F. Kennedy had survived assassination and gone on to finish his first term, perhaps even winning a second? It’s a question that, obviously, we can’t ever really know the answer to, but it is fun to speculate, especially if the person doing the speculation is a good, well-informed writer who seems to know what they are talking about. Greenfield is that sort of writer.

In this book, the point of departure for history involved rain not clearing up. In our history, it had been raining in Dallas, but it stopped early enough that JFK went out in an open top vehicle. In this book, perhaps because of a butterfly in Brazil, the rain continues, and the protective canopy is put onto the car. As a result, when the bullets fly, Kennedy is grievously wounded, but survives.

From that point we progress into 1964 and beyond. The book explores things I didn’t know, like an investigation that had been focusing on Johnson right before the shooting. It also creates interesting versions of the elections in 1964 and 1968 (though frustratingly, we don’t learn who won in ’68. I’m guessing Humphrey). We also get to see Kennedy wind down the Cold War and pull out of Vietnam, which is about the only thing he pulls…oh, never mind.

The book doesn’t lionize JFK. He’s also shown selling out on the Civil Rights Act, at least initially, and it also showcase his adultery and his drug use. I liked that the book takes a balanced approach to the man.

The book also creates a wonderful view of a very different late 1960s. Without Kennedy being assassinated, and without Vietnam becoming a thing, Americans are a lot more optimistic. There is still, for example, a counter-culture, but it takes a different form.

Overall, I really liked this book. I feel that the changes the author suggest are very plausible, and that’s always important in alternate history. The fact that it’s an interesting read is icing on the cake.


An Excellent Summation

Stolen from Andrew Sullivan’s blog, which was in turn stolen from The Death of a President.

“In that third year of the Kennedy Presidency a kind of fever lay over Dallas County. Mad things happened. Huge billboards screamed “Impeach Earl Warren.” Jewish stores were smeared with crude swastikas. Fanatical young matrons swayed in public to the chant, “Stevenson’s going to die–his heart will stop, stop, stop and he will burn, burn burn!” Radical Right polemics were distributed in public schools; Kennedy’s name was booed in classrooms; junior executives were required to attend radical seminars. Dallas had become the mecca for medicine-show evangelists of the National Indignation Convention, the Christian Crusaders, the Minutemen, the John Birch and Patrick Henry societies . . .

In Dallas a retired major general flew the American flag upside down in front of his house, and when, on Labor Day of 1963, the Stars and Stripes were hoisted right side up outside his own home by County Treasurer Warren G. Harding–named by Democratic parents for a Republican President in an era when all Texas children were taught to respect the Presidency, regardless of party–Harding was accosted by a physician’s son, who remarked bitterly, “That’s the Democrat flag. Why not just run up the hammer and sickle while you’re at it?” – William Manchester, Death of a President.

The Church vs the Kennedys

So I see that the Catholic church has decided to deny Communion to Patrick Kennedy due to his stance on abortion rights. Well done, guys, well done. In return, I hope the Kennedys turn Anglican and stop donating money to their local churches. After all, Patrick Kennedy earns his money by being a Congressman and campaigned in part on abortion rights, so there’s no way the church would want money that dirty, right?

Conspiracy Theories and You! – The John F Kennedy Assassination

Today marks forty-six years since John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. He was either killed by a single gunman with serious mental issues and weapons training who got very, very lucky, or by (as Wikipedia puts it), “the CIA, the KGB, the American Mafia, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, former Vice President Richard Nixon, sitting Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, anti-Castro Cuban exile groups, the Federal Reserve, the military-industrial complex, representatives of Big Business, or some combination of those entities and individuals.” None of these include my personal favorite; the explanation given in the TV show Red Dwarf.

The idea that Kennedy was assassinated as part of a larger conspiracy is one that’s very popular. People don’t want to accept that one single person could’ve killed the president; especially not someone as young and handsome and popular as JFK. They’d much rather believe Kennedy was killed by a huge group of faceless Them, because we all know They won’t stop at anything to rule the world!

Why does this make me think of the Birthers and Teabaggers out there?

There’s no real evidence that supports this notion. All the evidence, from ballistics on down, points to Oswald shooting Kennedy. But as we’ve seen with other articles in this series, reality does not play a role in conspiracy theories.

I suppose it’s possible that Kennedy might’ve been killed under orders from one of the various groups or people listed above, but there is just no evidence. Yes, there’s been assassination conspiracies before, most notably against Lincoln, but that doesn’t appear to be the case here.

I can understand the desire to believe in this particular theory. After all, if it was a conspiracy then that means that at least someone, somewhere, is in charge of things and random events like Oswald getting lucky don’t happen. But the reality is that they do.

Hopefully in the future people will start ignoring the evidence-lacking conspiracies and just pay attention to the facts and the science in the case. For some reason, though, I’m not holding my breath.

For them as wants an entertaining, scientifically accurate, takedown of this as well as a couple other conspiracy theories, check Penn & Teller – Bullshit – The Complete Third Season. They’ve a great episode in there dealing with it!

What Happens to Health Care Reform?

So now that Senator Kennedy has died the relevant question, as it’s been all summer, really, is “What do we do about health care reform?”

Kennedy was a big proponent of reforming the current (broken) system. He wanted changes put in that would protect us from the insurance companies and would provide care for everyone. It was one of his great passions and it’s a pity that he didn’t get to see it passed before he died.

But, and wretched though I feel for thinking this, his death might be the push that’s needed to finally overcome all the opposition and get it passed. There’s lots of Democrats who have been on the fence over this; the so-called “Blue Dog” democrats. If the bill that gets voted on is, for example, called “The Senator Kennedy Health Care Reform Act”, that’ll put pressure on them to pass it, as will other Democrats saying (accurately), “It’s what Kennedy would have wanted.”

I hate having to think this way, I really do. But Kennedy was a political figure and reforming health care was something he dearly wanted and that we deserve. If it takes using his death to get it passed, then so be it. I don’t know that he’d have wanted it any other way.

Sic Transit Teddy Kennedy – 1932 – 2009

I'm making damn sure this picture is positioned well to the left of center.

I'm making damn sure this picture is positioned well to the left of center.

Senator Edward “Teddy” Kennedy has died. He was the brother of Robert Kennedy and John Kennedy and the senior Senator from Massachusetts.

Kennedy was a controversial character at times. Like all the more notable Kennedys he’s had his problems, but no one can doubt that he was a dedicated, hard-working man who did his best by his state and his country.

He was the last of the great Kennedy figures; the Tier One Kennedys, if you will. Like Robert before him he tried for the Presidency and unlike John he didn’t succeed. He was a hell of a Senator, though, and will be missed.


We’ve had 43 Presidents in these United States. So far, all have been white men, though I expect that to change come January of next year.

They’ve varied in quality from exceptional (Washington, Lincoln, both Roosevelts), to mediocre (Carter, Grant), to really awful (Harding, Nixon). Most have served out at least one term. Some have gone back for seconds. Only one has served more than two.

People debate and discuss the relative merits of each President fairly often. There’s some that are everyone’s favorites and some that no one really likes. But then there’s the other groups. The ones that very highly overrated and ones that are very highly underrated.

So much potential, but not a lot else

So much potential, but not a lot else

To me the most overrated President in American history is John Kennedy. He wasn’t at all bad, and his handling of the Cuban Missle Crisis was genius. But really he didn’t accomplish too terribly much before he was assassinated. The fact that he was young, attractive and died so early have no doubt done much to convince the public he was better than he actually was. Had he lived, he would’ve likely been one of the best Presidents we’ve ever had, but he didn’t.

His real accomplishments, like the Cuban Missle Crisis, working on civil rights and pushing us towards the Moon cannot be ignored. But we can’t ignore the fact that, beyond those, he didn’t really do all that much for our country.

Polk you in the eyes!

Polk you in the eyes!

As for underrated, clearly the top choice there is James K Polk. Here’s a man who did much to make our country go from sea to shinning sea. He waged the Mexican-American War (which we’d been expected to lose), settled the boundry dispute with the UK over Canada, created the Department of the Interior, tried (and failed), to buy Cuba from Spain, and, unfortunately, fought hard to keep the institution of slavery alive.

Despite that last part, he did more than many to get our country up to the size it is now, and for that alone, he needs to be remembered more than he is. Sadly, due to a rather silly last name that’s not likely to happen.

So who do you folks think are the most overrated and underrated Presidents?

(photos stolen from Wikipedia!)