Sunday, Nov. 18, 2007 | 1:13 a.m.
We had our 15 minutes of fame and a whole lot more.
Las Vegans are used to being exposed by the bright lights of the media. It is the way we make our living. The more publicity, the more business is generated. Pretty simple formula.
Today, however, things are different. We have stepped into the limelight in a way far different from the usual Entertainment Capital of the World stuff that we know how to do better than anyone else on the planet. What is new to us, though, is stepping up and into the world of substance, of politics and of policy.
We did all of that this past week. The CNN-sponsored Democratic debate Thursday was a start. If you pay attention to the smart folks who watch and decipher such things, Las Vegas played a most significant role by being the place where Hillary Clinton "beat the men" and cemented her place at the head of the pack of those seeking the Democratic nomination.
Also, the first-ever Las Vegas board meeting for the venerable Brookings Institution and its emphasis on scholarly involvement with next year's presidential election was another foray into a world of substance that is not usually associated with our city. The Opportunity 08 event co-sponsored by UNLV provided a most insightful look at next year's election issues and introduced UNLV students to the kind of high-impact, scholarly thinking and analysis for which Brookings is known.
Perhaps one of what will be the best campaign nuggets to come out of this year's presidential run-up was used by Ken Duberstein, President Reagan's very able chief of staff. When asked about Rudy Giuliani, Ken opined that the electorate was not ambivalent. "You either love him or he hates you," was Ken's response. He captured Rudy to a tee.
And, finally, the stories about our city and state and our impact on the election process that have resulted and will continue to be written, at least through Jan. 19, all go to prove the point that Las Vegas, this once-sleepy railroad stop in the middle of the desert, has finally come into its own.
In short, what is happening in Las Vegas and what we are doing in Las Vegas is no longer staying here. It is shot out over the airwaves, hyperspaced through the Internet and even printed on paper for everyone in the country to see. We are growing up and the whole world is watching.
So, if people are paying attention, what will they see?
I am afraid they won't see us living up to all the hype. Instead, the picture is one of a community and state uncertain of the direction it needs to grow toward the future. People will see a growing population of working men and women becoming increasingly disenchanted with their elected leadership and woefully unprepared or unable to make heads or tails of all the conflicting messages that spew forth from the political machinery.
I am one of those people who believe that most folks still want good schools, affordable health care, drivable roads going somewhere close to where they need to go and sufficient water to drink adequately and bathe appropriately, as well as other creature comforts most people take for granted. And, I believe those folks are more than willing to pay for those services.
The problem seems to be that some of our elected leaders - driven hard by some very wealthy and well-connected backers who have agendas far different from that of the general public - are content to just say no to progress of any kind. And no one is holding them to account.
Well, almost no one.
I speak now of Gov. Jim Gibbons' ridiculous insistence that he can fix all that ails the state of Nevada by either cutting taxes or not raising them. Even in the face of incontrovertible evidence proving that vital government services will be cut or closed because there isn't enough money to pay for them, the governor persists with his ideological ignorance of plain, hard truth.
The problem is that some in the media - can you say R-J? - who align themselves with the no tax mantra because they love the idea of making it here and taking it - all of it - there, give cover to the shortsightedness that seems to define our current crop of state leaders. I suppose that would all be well and good except for the fact that we have invited the nation's media to take a look at us now and one of the things they will certainly find is just how backward we are and how proud we are of that fact.
So, if the R-J won't change its tune, the only alternative is to try to change the tune of the people who have the most to lose. That would be you and me.
I read that Chancellor Jim Rogers and County Commission Chairman Rory Reid have stood up to the governor's expected fiscal insanity. But how long can that last if the people for whom they are rightfully fighting don't step up and support their leadership?
We are constantly crying out in this country for people who will lead us, people who will take the arrows that inevitably come when they stand up to the status quo and people who will fight for what is right and just, rather than what is just right for the fortunate few.
If we want those folks to take the lead we have to be willing to follow. So far, I haven't heard a whisper of protest from the working men and women in this community who will be most ill-served by any proposed cuts in vital and needed government services. We can no longer afford to be too busy to watch television or read the newspapers or otherwise educate ourselves about what is happening where we live.
Our refusal to pay attention and think for ourselves got the current governor elected, so it stands to reason that if we continue to let the other guy carry the fight while we hide in our homes, ignore the hard realities and stand mute when we should be standing tall, we will deserve what we continue to get.
This is no longer a question and an inaction in a vacuum. The whole world is now watching us for more than our entertainment value. When the next wave of people decide to make Las Vegas their home - and they are the folks who will bring the mass, the know-how and the determination that all young cities need in their maturation process - they will be paying attention to the kind of decisions we make about who and what we really want to be now that we are growing up.
During the first 30 years of our young lives, Las Vegas was all about a community saying yes. In the past few years, we have been content to "just say no" to anything and everything that will make us a first-class community for all who live and work here.
I don't believe that most Las Vegans who want to raise their children here really want that kind of community. But it is hard to know that for sure because the people are strangely silent. And, unless we stand up for those who want to fight for us, they, too, may soon be silent.
How about some noise, people!