What If JFK Had Lived?

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The "What If?" game of history is never more fun than when played using real-life moments in our history. What if Lincoln had turned down an invitation to Ford's Theater that night of April 14, 1865, and Gen. U.S. Grant had gone instead? What if the rain showers that had been sprinkling over Dallas had continued for a few more hours on Nov. 22, 1963?

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In the case of President John F. Kennedy, historians and authors point to many moments where a slight change of events could have resulted in Kennedy making a successful campaign trip to Dallas without incident. But then what? How would the United States be different now if Kennedy had survived?

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The U.S. Secret Service agents assigned to the Kennedys talk about the First Family.
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Journalist and television commentator Jeff Greenfield pondered this idea in his new book "If Kennedy Lived: The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy."

Greenfield's alternate history begins when Secret Service agents decide not to remove a protective clear plastic rain bubble on the president's limousine for the ride from Love Field to downtown Dallas. In Greenfield's version, Oswald's bullets strike the shell, but only manage to wound President Kennedy.

"Everyone assumed it would rain all weekend," Greenfield said. "The clearing of the skies has been a part of the speculation or talk about what happened for almost 50 years."

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Greenfield carefully lays out a different path in which Vice President Lyndon Johnson finds himself under investigation for financial improprieties and is dropped from the Democratic ticket in 1964. Kennedy is re-elected over GOP nominee Barry Goldwater, but instead of escalating U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Kennedy plays it more cautiously and pulls out during his second term.

As for Russia, Kennedy decides to make up for a disastrous first summit with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev by making an official visit to Moscow, hoping to reduce Cold War tensions.

Greenfield also sees Kennedy opening up relations with China years before President Nixon's visit in 1972. He believes Kennedy could have passed civil rights legislation using black military veterans as a political tool against opponents, mostly southern Democrats.

Another author (one of more than 100 out with JFK books this fall) believes President Kennedy would have been less successful than Johnson was when it comes to the "Great Society" social programs of the mid-1960s.