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The Meaning Of Boston: Depends On Your Angle, Literally

Signatures and messages adorn a Boston Marathon poster on Tuesday near the site of the April 15 bombings.
Mario Tama
Getty Images
Signatures and messages adorn a Boston Marathon poster on Tuesday near the site of the April 15 bombings.

The opportunistic political sentiment of never letting a crisis go to waste (see: Rahm Emanuel, among others) has been reframed since the Boston bombings by those seizing on the attack as certain evidence of their positions.

In the Los Angeles Times recently, columnist Doyle McManus referred to the attack as akin to a " national Rorschach test" that has provided — especially before the suspects were identified — something for everyone.

From those who fear Muslims and those who suspected anti-tax extremists to immigration overhaul supporters and opponents, from media and birth-order experts to truthers and conspiracy theorists, the event provided fodder for a spectrum of favored narratives.

Which has caused national security experts like James Carafano of the conservative Heritage Foundation to bristle.

"Clearly, on almost every aspect of this, all the facts aren't in," says Carafano, whose recent book is Wiki at War: Conflict in a Socially Networked World. "To draw broad public policy conclusions based on this when we don't have all the facts is not the best way to serve the public interest."

Carafano, who says he has significant issues with the immigration overhaul proposal that is the subject of Capitol Hill hearings this week, has warned against hanging an immigration narrative on the events in Boston, no matter which side of the issue you're on.

"It's difficult to make law by anecdote," he said. "It's difficult to use one case to make a trend, or to use one case to create a trend."

"These guys," he said, referring to bombing suspects Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, who died in a shootout with police, "can represent many different things."

"We don't need a crisis to tell us what's good and bad about our system — it's like judging a baseball season in one pitch," Carafano said. "This isn't a wake-up call on anything. I've been in this business 10 years and I haven't heard one issue raised in the last week that I haven't heard a thousand times."

We thought, however, it would be interesting to take a quick look at just what's been out there since the attack, how interest groups and partisans have attempted to use the Boston bombings to further a cause or make a political point. Here's just a flavor of what has unfolded:

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says we need to revisit what we expect from the Constitution
"The people who are worried about privacy have a legitimate worry," Bloomberg said during a press conference. "But we live in a complex world where you're going to have to have a level of security greater than you did back in the olden days, if you will. And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change."

Forbes columnist says Boston means Russia's Putin wins, raises questions about Obama's "war on terror"
"Boston extremism should plague Barack Obama throughout his second term as it raises legitimate question about his handling of the war on terror. It will help Vladimir Putin remove the last vestiges of democracy and free press from his totalitarian Russia without a peep from the U.S."

Commentators, Pat Robertson blame Muslims for attack, warn of menace
Fox News guest commentator Erik Rush tweeted, then deleted, "Let's kill them." And on his 700 Club program, Robertson disputed with a "no way" the notion of Islam as a "religion of peace."

The Republican National Committee says the Democratic National Committee politicized the bombing's aftermath. Each group calls the other "disgraceful"
The RNC criticized the DNC for requiring email addresses and ZIP codes for visitors to its website who use a feature to send a letter of thanks to Boston first responders. The RNC called it a political ploy to fatten fundraising lists; the DNC said it isn't using the email data for fundraising and accused the RNC of politicizing expressions of support.

The Sequester, Post-Boston
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., was one of the first to use Boston as evidence of the importance of investing in "both domestic and international security" and not pursuing an "irrational policy of cutting the highest priorities and the lowest priorities by essentially the same percentage."

Immigration, of course
Carafano, of Heritage, notes that the Tsarnaev brothers "didn't sneak across the border to get into the United States, nor were they here illegally," and he has written that people are falling into an "emotional trap" to advance their political agendas. And we've seen arguments to both speed up and slow down the legislative process surrounding consideration of the immigration overhaul proposal.

Guns, Post-Boston, according to Fox
Fox News featured a story about "confused" celebrities pushing for gun control.

Guns, Post-Boston, according to New Yorker editor David Remnick
On PBS's Charlie Rose, Remnick asked where the suspects got their weapons, suggestiong that attack might have been "a hell of a lot more difficult to pull off with effective gun control."

Republican House Speaker John Boehner, on information-sharing among agencies before Boston
Boehner says talk that the FBI may have missed signals before the attack "clearly raises some serious questions."

While some favored post-Boston narratives have fallen by the wayside as more facts have come to light, there are still plenty out there.

Carafano, however, predicts that come next week Boston will fade as a point of argument in the immigration debate, at least.

"Americans," he said, "are not too excited about people playing politics with tragedy."

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Liz Halloran joined NPR in December 2008 as Washington correspondent for Digital News, taking her print journalism career into the online news world.
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