Grow up, folks

U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley thinks President Obama is picking on Las Vegas.

No kidding—she actually used those words in a written statement: “President Obama needs to stop picking on Las Vegas, and he needs to let Americans decide for themselves how and where to spend their hard earned vacation dollars.”

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid didn’t use the language of kindergarten, but he was just as outraged—or, we suspect, mock outraged. Because, after all, both Berkley and Reid, as well as Gov. Jim Gibbons and Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and a mess of columnists, know perfectly well that Obama was not attacking Las Vegas. He was simply using that city as an example of excess. And since Las Vegas has spent decades cultivating its image as Excess Central, its leaders have no grounds for complaint if the president makes use of the city’s self-image.

This is what Obama said: “When times are tough, you tighten your belts. You don’t go buying a boat when you can barely pay your mortgage. You don’t blow a bunch of cash in Vegas when you’re trying to save for college. You prioritize. You make tough choices.”

We Googled the phrase “is like Las Vegas” and here are some of the examples we got:

“Penn [State] during Spring Fling is like Las Vegas during the entire year. Anything goes.”

“A comic convention is like Las Vegas.”

“Pahrump is like Las Vegas when it was small.”

“Politics is like Las Vegas.”

“[Moscow University] is like Las Vegas, Russian degrees aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.”

“Melissa is like Las Vegas, fun for a few days.”

“Dubai is like Las Vegas, if you replace all the casinos with shopping malls, and subtract the alcohol.”

“Getting a book deal with a big publisher is like Las Vegas.”

“And Los Angeles is like Las Vegas, eventually you lose.”

“Macau is like Las Vegas, Portugal and Asia all rolled into one.”

“Inexpensive cruises, it turns out, are a lot like Las Vegas. Most folks are there to party, gamble and eat.”

It’s unlikely any of these were intended to attack Las Vegas. Or praise it, for that matter. They were just making a neutral use of the city as an example.

Las Vegas is an icon. Icons are used as examples. When Golf World used the headline “The Mount Rushmore of College Golf,” it was not commenting on Mount Rushmore. When Jim Gibbons called the United States the “Saudi Arabia of oil shale,” it was a comment on the United States, not Saudi Arabia. When Hollywood producer Toby Emmerich said, “But we think Freddy is the Coca-Cola of the horror market,” it probably didn’t thrill the Coca-Cola folks, but they likely rolled with it. Which is what Reid, Berkley and other outraged Nevadans should do.

Of all people who should understand this, Harry Reid should. He used opponents of slavery as an example of those who oppose proposals like health insurance changes.

The fact that Las Vegas jumped into the president’s mind when he was making a point about extravagance is a mark of that city’s success in making itself into an adult playground. If it weren’t such a success, he would have used Hawaii, or Disneyland, or Acapulco or Miami. And we suspect that leaders in all of those places would have handled the reference with more grace and maturity than Reid and Berkley did.