This last weekend, as I watched the press lionize Edward Kennedy, a mediocre man at best and a murderer at worst, I found myself pondering our country’s true loss, his brother John. What would be different if JFK had lived? For one thing, America would have experienced a truly fabulous 1964 presidential race. The two contenders, JFK and Goldwater, were political rivals but also very good friends. In fact, the two had privately agreed that if Goldwater won the nomination, they would debate each other in towns across this nation. Both men were said to have been eagerly anticipating what would have been some lively ideological battles. What an education for the American people – – to be able to witness those two mental titans going head to head!
But alas, JFK was assassinated in Dallas and Goldwater was absolutely grief stricken over his death. With characteristic bluntness, Goldwater predicted his upcoming loss to Johnson, saying Lincoln himself could come back from the dead to campaign on his behalf, and this nation would still not vote against Kennedy’s memory. And so it was, that LBJ would walk into the presidency without even having to debate Goldwater once; and from there would go on to push through his disastrous Great Society legislation, to say nothing of his mishandling of the Vietnam conflict.
Monday morning quarterbacking is easy, of course. And even if we could change various aspects of our history, would we? For example, Goldwater’s loss to LBJ would turn out to be a boon for conservatives as it would help set the stage for a monumental victory by Ronald Reagan, a great admirer of Goldwater’s. And this is where mental meanderings like these eventually take us – – to the realization that we can never relive events, only learn from them.