Put this down as a something Democrats mention only after an election. Gov.-elect Steve Sisolak wants to rename McCarran International Airport after Harry Reid.
On Tuesday, Sisolak, who chairs the Clark County Commission, said he will seek to rename the Las Vegas airport before the end of the year. The seven-member commission is comprised entirely of Democrats, so it looks as if the fix is in.
The airport’s namesake is the late Democrat Sen. Pat McCarran. In many ways, he was the Harry Reid of his time. Like Reid, he had a hardscrabble upbringing. McCarran played semi-pro baseball. Reid was an amateur boxer. They both built up political machines while playing hardball politics.
McCarran was also instrumental in numerous aviation accomplishments. He sponsored the bill creating the predecessor to the Federal Aviation Administration in 1938. He secured funding for the airstrip at what would become Nellis Air Force Base in 1940. In 1945, he sponsored the Federal Airport Act, which included funding for the airport that — for now — bears his name. McCarran was a dominant political force, not just in Nevada, but nationally.
But McCarran’s name should be removed from the airport, advocates such as newly elected County Commissioner Tick Segerblom argue, because he was anti-Semitic. There’s plenty of evidence for the charge.
This discussion highlights the opposing ways people view public recognition in the form of naming buildings or erecting monuments. Is it an acknowledgment of someone’s accomplishments or an endorsement of everything that person said and believed?
In demanding reforms such as changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, liberals embrace the second view. Under that perspective, McCarran shouldn’t be recognized — but neither should Reid.
Reid once said Barack Obama was a “light-skinned” African American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” In 1993, he proposed a bill that would have eliminated birthright citizenship for children born to illegal immigrants.
“If making it easy to be an illegal alien isn’t enough, how about offering a reward for being an illegal immigrant? No sane country would do that, right?” Reid said during a Senate speech. Liberal groups now assert that using “illegal immigrant” is offensive.
Reid once called New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand the “hottest” senator.
Wait a few decades, and it’s likely that someone will use these statements as proof Reid was racist and sexist.
It seems absurd to remember Reid for these remarks instead of for his long Senate career. It would have seemed just as absurd when McCarran died in 1954 that Democrats eventually would work to purge tributes to their one-time leader.
This isn’t to draw a moral equivalence between the beliefs of McCarran and Reid. It’s to point out the problem of judging people based on current sensibilities rather than through a lens tempered by historical context.
If you remember people for their errors instead of their accomplishments, one day the airport won’t be named after Harry Reid.
Victor Joecks is a columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.