Mike Kueber's Blog

December 21, 2013

Sunday Book Review #117 – If Kennedy Lived by Jeff Greenfield

Filed under: Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 1:55 am
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The concept for If Kennedy Lived is “alternate history” – i.e., how would America have changed if Kennedy had survived the assassination attempt in Dallas.  In the book, Greenfield gives us his opinion to the obvious questions, primarily would Kennedy have kept America from getting sucked into Vietnam and would he have matched LBJ’s achievements with civil rights?

Not surprisingly, liberal journalist Greenfield concludes that Camelot Kennedy would have pulled out of Vietnam (and thereby avoided the youth rebellion of the late 60s) and would have led the way on civil rights.  If Kennedy lived, America would be blessed with eight years of peace and prosperity, but the Democratic Party would not be assured success in 1968 because his civil-rights achievements would have driven the South into the hands of the Republican Party.

In one of the book-jacket blurbs, Bob Schieffer talks of “a trio of thought-provoking, interesting, and downright clever scenarios that remind us just how much individuals do matter”:

  • Regarding the three clever scenarios – I’m not sure what those scenarios are, but I guess they are:
    • In real history, LBJ was given a pass on a potential financial scandal when he became president, but in Greenfield’s alternate history, the scandal would have been scrutinized by the liberal media and ultimately LBJ would have been forced to resign before Kennedy’s re-election in 1964.
    • HHH would win the Democratic nomination in 1968, but as the anti-war candidate, while Nixon would be defeated by Reagan for the Republican nomination.  (Greenfield provides no credible rationale why Kennedy’s survival would shift the dynamics of the Republican nomination in favor of Reagan.)
    • I don’t know what the third scenario is.  Perhaps it is the most obvious – i.e., the plastic roof on the convertible deflecting the Oswald’s bullet.
  • Regarding whether individuals matter – futurist George Friedman does not agree that individuals do matter.  A few years ago, I wrote about Friedman’s book titled The Next 100 Years, and in that book he argued that geopolitics does not take the individual leader very seriously because leaders don’t have much latitude regarding their actions.  Greenfield is not credible when he posits that JFK would have latitude that LBJ did not.

The book is surfeited with little inside jokes that only political aficionados will catch.  I caught a few, while probably missing more:

  • Al Gore, Jr. explaining that his dad was asked to be HHH’s running mate so that the ticket could carry Tennessee – “Makes sense.  It’d be damn hard for a national candidate to lose his home state.”  (Gore, Jr. decades later lost him home state of Tennessee.)
  • Richard Nixon, fuming over a Kennedy power grab, complains that “Just because a president does it does not mean it’s legal.
  • JFK pooh-poohing the idea of Bobby running for Senator of NY – “Bobby as a NY politician?  With his accent, they run him out of town in a week.

The book was easy to read, but ultimately it was disappointing because I’m not much interested in the wishful speculation of a liberal journalist.


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