JFK would have had to present himself as a tough Cold Warrior in the ‘64 presidential race against Barry Goldwater. And after winning he’d find it difficult to disengage from Vietnam with the hawks breathing down his neck. He might withdraw or he might not, but if he began a phased withdrawal he’d have to take the blame for America demonstrating weakness and lack of resolve in standing up to Asian communism.

He’d eventually push through the Civil Rights bill and perhaps also the Voting Rights Act, but would he be as aggressive as Johnson was in establishing various liberal domestic programs? Dylan, the Beatles and the British Invasion, Stokely Carmichael, the Black Panthers, the New Left and the counter-culture would happen either way, and all this would manifest in a need for pitched conflict with a senior establishment figure, and who better than the President?

It wouldn’t be easy or pretty or without conflict. Then again strange detours might’ve happened. JFK might have quietly dropped a tab of mellow Orange Wedge (provided by Timothy Leary) during June of ’67 while listening to “Sgt. Pepper” on headphones. But 14 months later he’d have to grapple with Mayor Richard Daley‘s Chicago police riot during the Democratic National Convention in August ’68. And then — horror of horrors — his old nemesis Richard Nixon would return to run against JFK’s Democratic successor, his brother Bobby, only for the dynasty to collapse following the malice of Sirhan Sirhan.

The worst part is that JFK’s second and final term would end in January ‘69, right in the thick of late ‘60s chaos and upheaval and a spreading miasma of social disorder (SDS, Weathermen, tear gas in Harvard Square) and with Nixon victorious. What a terrible finale for an administration that began on 1.20.61 with so much hope and vigor.

Just as Abraham Lincoln’s murder saved him from the fierce conflicts of the Reconstruction era that led to Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, JFK’s death in Dallas saved him from the chaos and conflict of the mid to late ‘60s. [Originally posted this morning as a comment under “Obviously Time Travel“.]