In a fascinating new book, TV journalist Jeff Greenfield imagines alternate history in the past century--a 1960 assassination of President-Elect JFK to put LBJ in the White House for the Cuban Missile Crisis; Robert Kennedy's survival in 1968 to run against Nixon; and a 1976 victory by Ford over Carter to face the Iran hostage crisis.
Such what-ifs, underscoring how personalities and accidents affect history, suggest one for our times: Suppose John F. Kennedy Jr. had survived the plane crash that killed him in 1999 and gone on to a political career that put him in the White House now?
A plausible scenario would have him, with his background as publisher of a political magazine, running for the open New York Senate seat in 2000 and in a primary defeating Hillary Clinton with her recent baggage from the Lewinsky scandal and as a "carpetbagger" who had just moved into the state.
In 2008, with eight Washington years behind him, JFK Jr. would have been the ideal electoral antidote for the miserable Bush era, with newer Sen. Barack Obama on the ticket, to offer a combination of hope for the future and resonance of the Kennedy past to win the White House.
Most intriguing, given the same economic meltdown, Middle East muddle and fight over health care reform, is the question of how much traction GOP wall-to-wall resistance and Tea Party rage could have gained against a president invulnerable to charges of being a radical outsider who was not born in the U.S.A.?
If history is any guide, with the advice of uncle Ted and Camelot survivors, a second President Kennedy might have been as political cautious as his father but also more sure-footed than Obama has been in navigating the minefields of Congress and certainly less of a target of opportunity for wild slander.
Seeing Caroline Kennedy, now 53, on TV to promote her new book of poetry is a reminder of her failed attempt at being appointed to Hillary Clinton's Senate seat two years ago and that her brother at 50 would have been a year older than Obama is now.
Yet some of the old Kennedy problems might have persisted. Even with John Jr. more than a decade gone, a former long-time girlfriend now publishes a fond memoir of when he was People's "Sexiest Man Alive," involved not only with her but actress Darryl Hannah and journalist Christine Amanpour, among others.
But, in light of the Perils of Barack Obama today and the collection of clods vying to replace him, grateful voters would surely have been as forgiving as they were for his father. And after eight years as VP, Obama would have been in good shape to run as the first African-American president in 2016.