Nice while it lasted

Sept. 11, 2001, brought terrible tragedy, but it also gave us a stronger sense that we are all in this nation together. New York-bashing rhetoric and jokes passed out of favor. Politicians were no longer trying to pit us against New York. Madison Avenue was no longer marketing stuff with disdainful slogans like “This stuff was made in New York City!”

Well, that salsa commercial has resurfaced and so, now, has the shoddy political verbiage. Last week, Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick commented to KOLO News on his decision not to prosecute a merchant who shot a man who was trying to rob him: “This is not New York City nor is it California where people get prosecuted for this kind of stuff.”

Apparently, just as the United States has squandered the good will in the world that it enjoyed after Sept. 11, New York has exhausted the good will it earned in the nation on that day. That Gammick chose the day the 2,000th death of a U.S. servicemember in Iraq was announced to make such a comment seems grotesquely fitting.

There were perfectly reasonable ways for Gammick to explain his decision not to prosecute. The merchant had a concealed weapon permit. The robber was engaged in armed robbery and suffered only a minor wound.

So why did Gammick choose to make his case by bashing whole swaths of people? What is there about indiscriminately abusing large groups that is so appealing to politicians? Where does bashing New Yorkers or Californians stop and doing the same to Jews or Muslims start?

If there is a state whose leaders should be sensitive to this, it’s Nevada, which has been a punching bag for the nation for decades. But perhaps for the mean spirited—and Gammick is certainly one of those—the inspiration so many New Yorkers have given us was too much for them to bear.

One of history’s great conservative leaders, Edmund Burke, was an advocate in the British Parliament of the American colonies. In his first speech on conciliation with the colonies, he spoke words that Gammick and his breed should take to heart.

“I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people. I cannot insult and ridicule the feelings of millions of my fellow-creatures as Sir Edward Coke insulted one excellent individual [Sir Walter Raleigh] at the bar. I hope I am not ripe to pass sentence on the gravest public bodies, entrusted with magistracies of great authority and dignity, and charged with the safety of their fellow-citizens. … I really think that, for wise men, this is not judicious; for sober men, not decent; for minds tinctured with humanity, not mild and merciful.”