We've all seen how the bombing in Boston, as so often happens with events like this, brought out the best in the people who were there. But it also—not surprisingly either—brought out the worst in some other people who were back in Washington. It gave them the opportunity to let loose their most vulgar impulses, the satisfaction they get from stoking fear, and their absolute disdain for so many of the things that make America what it is, has been, and continues to be.
You'll recall that after September 11, the phrase "this changes everything" was repeated thousands of times. In too many cases, what that meant was, "This gives me the opportunity to advocate changes pulled from the darkest recesses of my imagination, the things I never would have dared suggest before. This is our chance." We can toss aside those pesky constitutional amendments that protect against unreasonable search and seizure or provide for due process, because we never liked them anyway. Hell, we can even torture people. This is our chance.
Not many people are saying that the Boston bombing "changes everything," but we need to be clear on this: It changes nothing. There is no new reality to which we must adapt. Events like marathons were vulnerable to attack before, and they're vulnerable to attack after. There are some things you can do to make large public gatherings as safe as possible, but killing people where they assemble has never been all that difficult and won't ever be. The reason it doesn't happen more often isn't luck and it isn't because we've been sufficiently loose with constitutional protections in the past. The reason is that there just aren't very many people who want to do it.
There is no domestic conspiracy of ethnic Chechens that must be dismantled and no new danger from naturalized citizens. With a truly epic show of opportunism, some now say the bombing shows we shouldn't have immigration reform, because—because what? Because immigration officials should have been able to figure out that 9-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev would ten years later grow disillusioned enough with his life to do this? Please.
And now, some Republicans in Washington are saying that it's absolutely vital that we declare Tsarnaev—an American citizen, arrested in America for committing a crime in America—an "enemy combatant." Lindsay Graham and John McCain penned a letter insisting that Tsarnaev be taken out of the American justice system and placed in that legal netherworld where just about anything goes, and one conservative after another rushed to join them. And for what? Despite the glee their black little hearts might take in it, Tsarnaev wouldn't be tortured even if we took him outside the justice system (so disappointing!). We have no evidence at all that the Tsarnaev brothers were part of some larger team that was planning more attacks any day now, so there is no imminent bombing that he could tell interrogators about. Even if it were legal, what would be accomplished? Well, their letter says, "The suspect, based upon his actions, clearly is a good candidate for enemy combatant status. We do not want this suspect to remain silent." Oh, right. I'm sure that, despite growing up in America, Tsarnaev has never actually seen a police procedural. If the police don't tell him he has the right to remain silent, he'll never know!
No, there's nothing of practical value to be gained by declaring Tsarnaev an enemy combatant. It wouldn't forestall any future attacks, or get us information we wouldn't get otherwise, or make anyone safer in any way. There's only the satisfaction that some tiny little men (and a few women) would take in the belief that they're being "tough" on terror. So once again, the people who bray so self-importantly about their fervid commitment to the Constitution demonstrate their utter contempt for it. Nothing has changed.