Las Vegas airport rids itself of a crummy name

December 15, 2021 6:00 am

(Photo: Ronda Churchill for Harry Reid International Airport)

“I believe that this nation is the last hope of Western civilization and if this oasis of the world shall be overrun, perverted, contaminated or destroyed, then the last flickering light of humanity will be extinguished….we have in the United States today hard-core, indigestible blocs which have not become integrated into the American way of life, but which, on the contrary are its deadly enemies. Today, as never before, untold millions are storming our gates for admission and those gates are cracking under the strain.”

No, that’s not a recent fundraising email from the Nevada Republican Party.

The quote is from the Congressional Record, attributed to former Nevada Sen. Pat McCarran in 1953. McCarran was defending the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952.

President Harry Truman had earlier commissioned a report on immigration that recommended replacing long-standing nation-based quotas, a formula that favored white western Europeans, with an immigration system that recognized realities such as reuniting families and workforce demands.

The McCarran-Walter Act, which passed over Truman’s veto, kept the national, i.e., race-based quotas.

In 1954 the U.S. launched “Operation Wetback” — the program’s official, actual name — a reflection of McCarranist xenophobia in which the the army went into Latino neighborhoods, rounded up undocumented folks, and deported a million of them to Mexico.

The McCarran-Walter Act also authorized the deportation of communists, even if they were U.S. citizens. There was a Red Scare, you see.

Several years earlier, McCarran got some federal money so Las Vegas could acquire some land for planes to land. So an airport was named for him.

McCarran’s brand of 1950s red-scaring wasn’t just about making sure the U.S. wasn’t “overrun, perverted, contaminated” by immigrants and communists. It was also about antisemitism, another distinguishing/disgusting feature of the senator’s career. 

And it was also used to demonize labor unions, and to reinforce white supremacy while suppressing civil rights.

Today, six states have majority-minority populations. Nevada is one of them, in large part because Las Vegas is a majority-minority metro area.

The Las Vegas metro area also has one of the highest union concentrations within a primary industry of any metro area in the country.

The Las Vegas airport had no business being named for Pat McCarran.

Harry Reid, for whom the airport was renamed Tuesday, said in a “Home means Nevada” adorned statement that the airport “is an outstanding facility, a world class international transportation hub. It is the indispensable ingredient to Las Vegas’ success; it’s the gateway through which millions come from every corner of the world to see our city, which is like no other place on earth.”

The gushing aside (every place is literally no other place on earth, after all), Las Vegas (the metro area, not that little part of it where people think electing Goodmans and Michele Fiore is a great idea) is undeniably unique. 

For instance, perhaps no metropolitan area has spent as much effort and money for so long relentlessly marketing itself to the rest of the nation and the world. Las Vegas is a city. But it’s also a product. It is so well-known, and occupies such a prominent position in the tourism market, why, you could have even named an airport after it.

Political polarization assures some people are thrilled, others appalled, that the airport is now named after Reid.

But the vast majority of those millions “who come from every corner of the world to see our city,” don’t care which politician other politicians named the airport after. They’ll just call it what it is: The Las Vegas airport.

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Hugh Jackson
Hugh Jackson

Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.