Kennedy After Dallas
What if JFK Had Survived Dallas?
This is the question that is being asked as the world marks the fiftieth anniversary of Dallas – November 22, 1963. In Kennedy After Dallas, Ray Argyle examines the records of the Kennedy Administration and JFK’s statements about his intentions to construct a “virtual history” of what might have followed if the President had survived. The following is an excerpt.
I – The Elder Statesman
We remember him best striding along the beach, splashing water as he went, as alert at almost sixty as when he was President, his hair now turned grey, his face a bit puffy perhaps, but smiling still, displaying all the charisma and character that had propelled him to the White House in 1960, saw him survive an attempt on his life in 1963, and returned him in 1964 for a second, historic term as President of the United States.
When he walked on the Florida beach tourists still crowded around him while the Secret Service eyed the crowd cautiously. Admirers called out, “How ‘ya doin’, Jack!” He didn’t often mix in public in those days but still he relished the acclaim that had been his for nearly thirty years. He divided his time between the Kennedy compound at Hyannis Port, his Presidential Library in Boston, and his town house in Washington. By 1975 he had become the unchallenged “elder statesman” of American public life.
John F. Kennedy’s two terms in the White House put him at the apex of American life during one of the most triumphant and tragic decades in the nation’s history. He nurtured a civil rights revolution that brought millions of African-Americans into the political and economic mainstream. He supported the women’s movement (for all the rumors of his sexual peccadilloes) and sympathized with the spirit of the Woodstock generation even if he couldn’t join the restless young people who sang of a new approach to life at rock concerts and love-ins.
President Kennedy was unable to save Vietnam from communism, but neither did he permit the United States to be drawn into a long, hopeless struggle that he knew could not be won. And he suffered the personal tragedy of losing a brother to an assassin’s bullet, just as he saw such historic figures as Martin Luther King Jr. die in the crucible of the social revolution that marked the 1960s.
For John Kennedy, the years following the White House were among the most fulfilling of his life. He had remarked early in his administration that, “whether I serve one or two terms in the Presidency, I will find myself at the end of that period at what might be called the awkward age – too old to begin a new career and too young to write my memoirs.”
In fact, he became President of Harvard University in 1971, putting him conveniently close to the Kennedy Library in Boston, which he watched over with care.
All his life, Kennedy had been fascinated with journalism. He had worked briefly as a correspondent for International News Service in 1945. Thirty years later, he returned to that craft as editor of a new daily newspaper, America’s Day. The paper, often criticized for the brevity of its news reports, soon became respected for the quality of its editorial page where President Kennedy would daily dictate a thoughtful analysis of a current issue in American life.
His editorials drew both praises and curses. A successor in the White House, Richard M. Nixon, fumed at JFK’s criticism of his bombing of Cambodia. “He thinks he’s still President,” Nixon muttered to John Haldeman, his chief aide.
For the rest of his life, John F. Kennedy played out his role as the arbiter of Democratic Party policy-making. While maintaining a façade of post-presidential elevation above partisanship, he saw to it that no candidate for high office would succeed without his endorsement. His influence led to resentments among younger Democrats who felt neither the personal loyalty nor the abject admiration that was shared by so many of his peers. When his chief speechwriter, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. published his memoir, My Years With Kennedy, he rejected the popular mythology that JFK’s time in the White House constituted a sort of Camelot, a romantic recreation of a bygone era. “Surviving the assassination attempt changed Kennedy forever,” Schlesinger wrote. “It deepened his somewhat latent Catholicism and removed what had been a frivolous streak in his personality. It made him tougher and meaner. Where he had once been a pragmatic politician who worked to secure a consensus for his policies, he became absolutely resolute in his determination to do what he believed to be right. Anything that stood in his way, he found a way to render irrelevant, be it a man or a policy.”
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