Jeff Greenfield’s Big Day

Jason Dick
Posted October 22, 2013 at 5:29pm

Political journalist Jeff Greenfield gets a nice one-two punch for his most recent creative ventures today, with the release of his book “If Kennedy Lived: The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy: An Alternate History” and the world premiere of “What If …? Armageddon 1962” on the Military Channel.

President John F. Kennedy, left, Speaker Sam Rayburn, center and Vice President Lyndon Johnson in 1961. (CQ Roll Call File Photo.)
President John F. Kennedy, left, Speaker Sam Rayburn, center and Vice President Lyndon Johnson in 1961. (CQ Roll Call File Photo.)

“In the case of John Kennedy, there were so many possible turning points that would have ended either his life or his political life before Dallas,” Greenfield said, ticking off the multiple times JFK almost bought it, whether by scarlet fever as a youth or his near miss in World War II in the Solomon Islands.

Heck, “maybe [Richard Nixon] has a better make-up man” during the 1960 presidential debates, Greenfield said. That sentiment of “what if?” infuses both the new book and the documentary, which is based on a chapter from Greenfield’s previous book of alternate history, “Then Everything Changed.”

The book explores the decisions Kennedy would most likely have made if the events of Nov. 22, 1963, would have left him alive, including whether to keep Lyndon Johnson as his vice president in 1964, what to do about the Vietnam War and how he would have pursued the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of Johnson’s signature legislative achievements as president.

It’s not as if it’s that far-fetched to imagine something happening by chance to spare Kennedy’s life. “It had been raining all day, all morning, and this cleared and the Secret Service said, ‘OK, we know how the president wants to be seen, he wants the crowds to see him, let’s get the bubble top off.’ So that’s how my narrative twists the fate. The rain doesn’t stop. The bubble top stays on. Oswald’s aim is thrown off, just enough, that Kennedy has a non-fatal wound and he remains president,” Greenfield said.

“What If …? Armageddon 1962” screens on the Military Channel tonight at 10 EDT. The documentary, produced by NBC News’ Peacock Productions, takes a chapter from “Then Everything Changed” that explored what could have happened if an attempted assassination attempt on Kennedy when he was president-elect had succeeded. As the title suggests (armageddon, anyone?), it’s not exactly how Kennedy would have handled the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Greenfield will be at Politics and Prose at 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW at 7 p.m. Friday to read from and discuss “If Kennedy Lived.”