Where do they get off?

Two leading Nevada political figures have recently made the headlines by attacking concerned members of the public.

U.S. Rep. James Gibbons was heard on a network news program saying of critics of the influence-peddling in the Bush inaugural, “Anybody who is against that obviously must be a communist.”

Gibbons has long been known as a panderer, so it’s a bit surprising that he would engage in such a sweeping denunciation of that broad segment of the public that was distressed by the lavish purchases of juice that took place through the Bush inaugural committee. Even if Gibbons disagreed with his constituents who felt that way, he could have engaged in some kind of decent dialogue instead of engaging in name calling. As it was, he showed a lack of respect for good people who want their government to be clean and ethical. Their concerns amid the spectacle of a presidency on the auction block were legitimate, and he could have addressed those concerns instead of dismissing them with a flip and malicious rebuff of his concerned constituents.

Almost as disagreeable as Gibbons’ comment was the news coverage of it, which was entirely devoted to whether he was damaged politically by it. A real examination of the implications of his labeling members of the public would have been more useful. This was more than just politics. And the Reno Gazette-Journal’s editorial posture of “Let’s move on” is a classic case of trying to bury precisely those things that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick listened to a discussion between local minority leaders and said, “The only word I heard in this last interview was Latino. I never heard American. And if a Latino, or German or Irish is voting in this country, they are American.”

Gammick made his comments on Sam Shad’s Nevada Newsmakers program. Shad later said, “Dick Gammick is not a racist by any stretch of the imagination.”

The subjects of Gammick’s comments are probably better qualified to make that judgment than those of us who are white and middle class. It is noteworthy that through years of local activities by Irish-Americans and Italo-Americans in our community, Gammick has never demanded that they first declare their Americanism before proceeding with other ethnic activities. He is offended by pride of heritage only when it is shown by people of color. Ethnic pride is apparently allowable only to those of whose heritage Gammick approves.

Gammick is akin to Theodore Roosevelt, who obtained the benefits of racial politics by tokenism like inviting Booker Washington to the White House, while describing blacks as “ape-like.”

“There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism…” Roosevelt said. “A hyphenated American is not an American at all.”

People like Gibbons and Gammick, fortunately, don’t get to decide which of us are good citizens. But it would be nice if these two would at least show simple respect for the public. It might make them better citizens.