The Fine Print
What if President John F. Kennedy had lived?
Historian Jeff Greenfield imagines how history would have changed if Lee Harvey Oswald hadn’t been successful in firing a fatal shot to Kennedy 50 years ago. It’s the latest alternative history from Greenfield in his new book, “If Kennedy Lived: The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy.”
Greenfield, who re-examined the political realities that were present prior to the assassination, told “The Fine Print” he believes that Kennedy’s survival would have likely meant the demise of then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson’s political career.
“The moment John Kennedy was shot, quite literally, LIFE Magazine -- a very important medium back then -- was launching a huge investigation into how this public servant had accumulated a $14 million net worth, and the answer wasn't pretty,” Greenfield said of Johnson. “It had to do with radio and TV licenses, and something close to extortion.”
The investigation was halted once Kennedy died, Greenfield said, “Because it would've been too much of a shock to the system.” But in Greenfield’s alternate history, the investigation grows into a scandal for Johnson, and Kennedy ultimately replaces him in his second term.
Greenfield also argues that the president’s “reckless” personal life would have eventually caught up with him -- and that reports of his extramarital affairs may have become public.
“It almost became public in the weeks before Dallas,” Greenfield said. “There were reporters looking around, because the recklessness of Kennedy's private life, including having a mistress who's also the mistress of a mafia boss, dallying with a woman who was a suspected East German intelligence agent.”
While the Kennedys would have ultimately squelched the reports from going public, Greenfield contends in his book, it would have almost certainly taken a major toll on his marriage. And Greenfield raises the question of whether the first lady might have sought a different life at the end of an imagined second Kennedy term.
“I speculate that she may have confronted John Kennedy with the hard realities of what she's been living through for 8 years,” he said. “By ‘68, the women's movement was beginning to take shape and maybe Jackie Kennedy might have looked for a different kind of life at the end of the term.”
For more of the interview with Greenfield, including why he says Kennedy would have pulled the U.S. out of Vietnam rather than escalating the war as Johnson did, check out this episode of “The Fine Print.”
ABC News’ Alexandra Dukakis and Gary Westphalen, Melissa Young and David Girard contributed to this episode.