Every major Kennedy assassination anniversary now brings with it the obligatory angst about how much better the world would have been if only he had lived. At the risk of spoiling the party, it’s time to say that things could just as easily have gone in a much darker direction.
For the past fifty years, the body politic has been fed a steady diet of revelations about Kennedy’s extramarital affairs, hidden medical treatments, sanctioning of coups and murder abroad, and wiretaps at home.
Even mainstream historians these days concede that John Kennedy was living a scandalous headline away from political disaster based on the sharp divide between his public image and his private life. In my view, if John Kennedy had gotten out of Dallas alive, the Washington, D.C. he returned to would have been a dangerous environment for keeping these kinds of secrets. Instead of a five decade IV drip of scandal, he might have faced a hugely accelerated unveiling of his secrets, laid out for the public of his own time to ponder.
As much as I’ve always admired President John F. Kennedy, the truth is that, had he survived to serve a second term, he might very well have been impeached.
If the question is only how the world would have turned out if Dallas had never happened, there may be a case to be made for champagne and roses. Then the President would simply have had to keep the secrets he’d already been keeping secret a few years longer while he worked on civil rights, Vietnam and the Cold War. Or so it is assumed.
On the other hand, if the scenario is JFK being ambushed in Texas but managing to escape with his life, then it’s time to reconsider. An argument can certainly be made that having survived, and not being a martyr, he would have remained a mere mortal in the eyes of the voters and his political opponents, leaving his agenda and prospects for re-election just as dicey as he thought they were. Many forget that shoring up a shaky hold on the electorate is why he went to Dallas in the first place.
If President Kennedy had woken up alive on November 23, 1963, he would have known that only the day before he had been targeted for execution on a public street in broad daylight. Investigations would have been demanded -- by the Dallas Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Congress, the Department of Justice, and the news establishment looking for scoops and not sad sidebars.
Without a doubt, rocks would have been getting turned over by people eager to find evidence for either a lone gunman or a larger conspiracy to kill the President. The suspects that even John Kennedy and his attorney-general brother Robert would have taken a hard look at would have included the CIA, Soviet Union, Castro, Cuban exiles, the Mafia, Big Oil, and maybe even the FBI, Secret Service and, yes, Lyndon Johnson. Currently a large majority of U.S. citizens still believe the Dallas hit was the result of a conspiracy. If JFK had lived past Texas, he and his brother probably would have been the first true conspiracy theorists.
This search for the truth on so many levels, unencumbered by the Camelot spin in the background, would have instantly changed rules about what was fair game to report, given that any attempted murder investigation needs to look into suspects, motive and opportunity.
The need to delay or divert the attention of the curious from his incautious and risky behavior might been reason enough for JFK to create his own version of the Warren Commission. A panel he appointed might have kept the lid on long enough to beat his likely GOP opponent Senator Barry Goldwater. Yet even re-election is not a free pass on second-term scandal — consider the cases of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, both of whom stumbled after winning a second election and became the subjects of impeachment drives.
This plausible “what if” has compelled me for nearly a quarter of a century, beginning when I first heard stories from one of my showbiz mentors who hung out with the Rat Pack, partied with JFK and Marilyn, and told me some first-person accounts that rattled my preconceptions. The dark revelations didn’t come out in the Sixties, he argued, because Kennedy’s brutal murder stopped such unseemly questions and rumors in their tracks. But if he had lived -- well, that would be another story.
When people consider the magnitude of John Kennedy’s sexual appetite and assignations in and out of the White House, they often conclude that he lived in different times and the media played by different rules with politicians. True, but if just one news outlet had started to write about his secrets (and several were close to doing so before his death), then the public would have suddenly been confronted with the reality that the Kennedy marriage was not a model one as they thought but one where the President entertained prostitutes, seduced interns, chased movie stars and slept with one woman suspected of being a Communist spy and another who was the girlfriend of a notorious Mob boss. Is it a high crime or misdemeanor to sleep around after a hard day’s work in the Oval Office? Probably not. But it may have endangered the President to clear women into the White House without having them screened by his Secret Service agents, leaving him open at the very least to bribery and possibly death by poison or worse.
Medically, the President was also hiding his Addison’s disease and a number of other ailments that ranged from serious to minor. He was treating them, on regular occasion, with the shots administered by Dr. Max Jacobsen, the same “Dr. Feelgood” charlatan that pumped up Elvis Presley before his death.
And while Kennedy had every reason to want to break up the CIA and scatter it to the wind after the Bay of Pigs and to fire FBI director J. Edgar Hoover for insubordination and blackmail, the buck still stopped at his desk, and he approved coups, murder plots on foreign leaders and even the bugging of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Could this have really resulted in Articles of Impeachment? Remember that impeachment is only the bringing of charges by the House of Representatives and not the conviction in a Senate trial. He might have beat the rap so to speak, but he also might have dragged the country into a constitutional crisis nearly a decade before Nixon did. Let’s remember that Kennedy began the taping in the Oval Office. His tapes might have ended up in the Supreme Court, too.
Let’s mourn the loss of innocence our nation suffered when President Kennedy’s life was ended. His death is unquestionably a tragedy of epic proportions, as evidenced by this month’s 50th anniversary commemorations. But let’s also remember that in a post-Dallas environment JFK would have been a man and not a myth. That man had secrets that, if revealed, surely could have shattered the nation’s innocence with their own power.
"Surrounded by Enemies: What if Kennedy Survived Dallas?" is available in print, ebook and audiobook formats.
Get Book on Amazon @ SurroundedByEnemies.com
Read More About It First @ WhatIfKennedyLived.com