We spent the last week wondering . . . what if?
What if Richard Nixon had shaved before the first debate? If he had gotten elected we probably wouldn't have had the war in Vietnam that Saint John Kennedy started because he had campaigned on a fake issue, namely that Republicans were insufficiently belligerent and were about to lose Quemoy and Matsu to the commies.
Those are forgotten islands, not cars, but Kennedy ran on them. They were the original dominos, and once elected he was bound to follow through with a few thousand Americans fighting in Vietnam, and one thing led to another, as Lyndon Johnson and later Nixon didn't want to appear unmanly in comparison to the Kennedys.
What if Nixon had gotten elected? What if he had a Mafia girlfriend? That is purely hypothetical. We doubt that Judith Exner or even Marilyn Monroe would want to sleep with Tricky Dick. What if Nixon had hired somebody to write him a book and bought himself a Pulitzer Prize?
What if Nixon had bought hundreds of thousands of votes in the election in West Virginia and Chicago? What if Nixon had secretly moved our missiles out of Turkey to get Khrushchev out of Cuba and then hid that from the public, while claiming that he heroically made the Soviet leader blink in a stare-down?
What if Nixon had gotten thousands of patriotic Cubans called to their doors and shot by promising air support if they rebelled and then not sending it when they did?
It is fairly sure that if Nixon had won, the civil rights movement would have been three years quicker. Kennedy, whose picture has been in every black home in America, wanted blacks to sit down and shut up, but it was Nixon's enthusiastic enforcement of the new Civil Rights Act which Johnson got passed that amounted to real change.
Local what-ifs 50 years ago have to do with this fundamental question: Who amounted to more, Lyndon B. Johnson or Tommy Fletcher, the man he visited in Martin County?
What if Johnson had stayed on that Martin County porch and Fletcher went to Washington to govern?
The men were similar in many ways. Both knew squat. Both men squatted well on that porch, but Fletcher was best as most coal miners are expert squatters. Both lived almost all of their lives off of government checks, and wanted everybody else to. Both fought poverty.
The big difference is that Fletcher did not send 60,000 young men to their deaths in Asia. His second wife went to the pen for killing one child and trying to kill another. LBJ did that in multiples of about 30,000, but old men do not get sent to the pen for causing young men to die in senseless wars. That is why 'W' is not a convict.
What went wrong in the Golden Triangle of Lovely, Beauty and Warfield? What went wrong was that the War on Poverty — which should have been the War on Basketball and later Big Coal — taught poor people how not to raise hogs and chickens and hunt greens and live without money.
In Martin County, the government spent $180 million hopelessly trying to turn a strip mine into something useful, namely a pre-tunneled prison and an empty industrial park. That project cost $350,000 for every job it created, and most of those jobs involved people moving to Martin County from somewhere else.
If they had given Fletcher $350,000 his wife might still have killed the kids, but people with that kind of money do not get convicted of it. With $350,000, Fletcher could have built for himself the equivalent of one of the outbuildings on coal operator Jim Booth's property, or could have dumped half that much into politics and then coal lobbyist Mike Duncan would also come and sit on his porch.
Duncan rose to become head of the Republican Party, and we all can see just how much that has benefited Martin County.
Larry Webster, a Pikeville attorney, can be reached at email@example.com.