Miller Center

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

What if Jackie Kennedy Had Lived to Celebrate Her 85th Birthday?

Alternative histories are intriguing, but, until recently, I thought they were simply entertaining fictionalized accounts of historical events. Journalist Jeff Greenfield’s Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternative Histories of American Politics is among the best of this genre.  (See Greenfield’s Miller Center forum at http://bit.ly/UFHfmC.)

Academic historians, however, occasionally use counterfactuals to determine the relationships between cause and effect. For example, if Al Gore had won the 2000 presidential election, would the United States have invaded Iraq in 2003? (See Miller Center event with Frank P. Harvey, author of Explaining the Iraq War: Counterfactual Theory, Logic and Evidence at http://bit.ly/1lMQqc8.)

As First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s birthday (July 28, 1929) approached, I began to ponder what she would be like today had she not succumbed to lymphoma in 1994. She is frozen in many memories as the glamorous wife of President John F. Kennedy, only 31 years of age when she entered the White House, or as his stoic widow creating the Camelot legend after his assassination a thousand days later. But what if Jackie Kennedy had lived to celebrate her 85th birthday?