The motorcade of JFK commemorative TV programs began this week and will continue through the half-century anniversary on November 22. The 35th president’s reputation has run the arc from martyr to cultural piñata and, if JFK: A President Betrayed is any indication, is returning to sainthood.
Like just about anything open to historical interpretation, Kennedy’s thousand days in office and his assassination provide grist for the relentless, endless shouting matches that have replaced the American conversation about our national identity. In fact, I would say that the culture wars did not start with the Pill, the Beatles, Lenny Bruce, Timothy Leary or Mario Savio – they began the minute John F. Kennedy was pronounced dead.
Not long ago I was walking toward an airport departure gate when a man approached me.
“Are you Robert Reich?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“You’re a Commie dirtbag.” (He actually used a variant of that noun, one that can’t be printed here.)
“I’m sorry?” I thought I had misunderstood him.
“You’re a Commie dirtbag.”
My mind raced through several possibilities. Was I in danger? That seemed doubtful. He was well-dressed and had a briefcase in one hand. He couldn’t have gotten through the checkpoint with a knife or gun. Should I just walk away? Probably. But what if he followed me? Regardless, why should I let him get away with insulting me?
I decided to respond, as civilly as I could: “You’re wrong. Where did you get your information?”
“Fox News. Bill O’Reilly says you’re a Communist.”
A year or so ago Bill O’Reilly did say on his Fox News show that I was a Communist.
Watch the latest video at video.foxnews.comLast week, much to my surprise, Bill O’Reilly invited me on his Fox News show, The O’Reilly Factor.
He was upset that I called him a “right wing buffoon” in my Huffington Post article, “Pete Seeger – In His Own Words – Graces the Colbert Report.” The article was actually about Pete Seeger’s appearance on Stephen Colbert’s show on Monday night.
In truth, the reference to O’Reilly in my Huffington Post piece was an after-thought. I was praising Stephen Colbert for inviting Seeger on his show and I suggested that Colbert lead a campaign to get Pete nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. I wrote that: “Colbert’s show — including his faux campaign for president, his Super PAC, and his nightly send-up of Bill O’Reilly’s right-wing buffoonery — brilliantly satirizes the absurdities of America’s corporate-dominated political culture.