What If?

Today in 1968, Robert Kennedy was mortally wounded by an assassin at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after winning the California primary. His death began a long depressing spiral in American history, paving the way for the election of Richard Nixon through divisive racial and class-warfare tactics that continue to split society today. I often wonder how things might have developed had RFK lived. For one thing, I think Nixon would’ve been finished. Remember that nominations then were controlled by party bosses, not primary voters. Indeed, RFK likely would’ve faced a floor fight in Chicago. For another, remember that Nixon in ’68 was still considered a political joke, a loser. The prospect of another Kennedy v. Nixon contest would’ve brought all those weaknesses back to the forefront. The bosses would’ve dropped Nixon, leading to a fight between Ronald Reagan and Nelson Rockefeller, which Rockefeller would’ve won; GOP elders also remembered the Goldwater debacle of 1964. Rockefeller would’ve not have run a dog-whistle racist campaign as did Nixon, leading to a bigger result for George Wallace, probably the whole of the South. RFK would win, but the election would still likely be very close. Without Nixon to use his old China connections to block negotiations, Vietnam would’ve ended much earlier, and thousands of Americans lives would’ve been spared. No Cambodian killing fields, either. No Watergate, no Imperial presidency. RFK was certainly not a traditional liberal in domestic policy, either; he favored small-scale neighborhood development organizations run by locals over a centralized welfare state. I could go on and on. RFK was not a saint, nor politically invincible, but I think an America in which he lived would be a much better place today.


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