Ringside Seat: Fear Itself

Much of what we hear in the immediate aftermath of events like today's tragedy in Boston turns out to be wrong. You may remember, for instance, that just after the Oklahoma City bombing 18 years ago, initial media reports included copious baseless speculation that the culprits might be Arab terrorists. The press obviously has a difficult job to do when something like this happens, attempting to gather information quickly in a chaotic situation and, particularly on television and radio, explain events in real time when so little can be confirmed. So one can have some understanding when they get some things wrong, as they certainly will.

In the coming days we'll learn what really happened in Boston and, we hope, find the terrorists responsible. Meanwhile, we should remember what terrorists' goal is: quite simply, to terrorize us. To make us live in fear, so that we make our own lives more difficult and unpleasant. When we do so we aren't merely making the only appropriate response, we're making a series of choices. And there are always other choices we could make.

In the absence of much knowledge so far, there's one thing we do know: Whatever the circumstances turn out to be, we should not repeat our collective mistakes after September 11, when we made so many concessions to that fear. We told the government to go ahead and tap our phones without warrants, or read our emails, or find out what books we take out of the library, or hold prisoners indefinitely without trial. We even let them start torturing people. Confronted with the horror of a terrorist attack, we gave the terrorists just what they wanted. We may not have surrendered to our enemies, but we did the next best thing: We surrendered to fear.

This time, let's try not to make the same mistake. 

So They Say

"Any responsible individuals—any responsible groups—will feel the full weight of justice."

—President Barack Obama, at his Monday press conference

Daily Meme: Tragedy in Boston

  • Nancy Costa was running the race when the first bomb exploded. "It was insane here. Everyone was running. I was right next to the explosion. It threw me. I never sprinted so fast after a marathon."
  • The Boston Globe's Steve Silva reported from the scene: “There was blood everywhere, there were victims being carried out on stretchers. I saw someone lose their leg. People are crying, people are confused."
  • The horror and confusion of the scene is the one constant in coverage, given that the who and what and how of the attack remain unknown. "I started running toward the blast. And there were people all over the floor, said Roupen Bastajian, a state trooper from Rhode Island who had finished the race shortly before. "We started grabbing tourniquets and started tying legs. A lot of people amputated. ... At least 25 to 30 people have at least one leg missing, or an ankle missing, or two legs missing."
  • The executive editor of Runners World was near the finish line: “I was on Boylston, in front of Lord and Taylor. I saw the first explosion go off. The cops turned to look at it, and then the second one went off. All the spectators and people on the course turned and ran the opposite direction. I didn’t finish—I went straight into the mall.”
  • Another witness told local radio station WGBH, "Boom, there was black smoke. Mass chaos. I saw one woman really, really badly hurt. She was being carried out by people, she was bleeding pretty badly. It wasn't a good scene. It was awful."
  • Nicholas Thompson, a New Yorker reporter based in Boston, wrote, "Today, there was a dramatic finish to the men’s race. An American woman came in fourth, as did an American man, one who doesn’t even have a shoe contract. But marathons aren’t about the winners; they are about the rest of the runners. And the worst time for an explosion is at about the four-hour mark, when a new runner seems to cross the line every second. Some of the most terrifying video shows the runners, coming to the finish line, right as the explosions go off."
  • Responses from political figures local and national have been steadily flowing in the past few hours. 
  • Vice President Biden was on a conference call when the bombings happened: "I don't know any of the details of what caused it, who did it, I don't think it exists yet. Butour prayers are with those people in Boston who are suffering injury. I don't know how many of them are—I'm looking at the television now."
  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tweeted, "I will do whatever I can to support the people of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts during this difficult time."
  • Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement: “As law enforcement authorities investigate today’s explosions in Boston, I ask all New Yorkers to keep the victims and their families in your thoughts and prayers."

What We're Writing

  • Conservatives were in an uproar last week over liberals' failure to cover the Gosnell abortion clinic case. Scott Lemieux explains how they were wrong in every single way.
  • It's tax day, and that means some portion of America has wrapped itself in a flag, thrown on a tricornered cap and headed out with drum and fife to protest about its God-given right to not pay up. Paul Waldman takes a look at why that's childish, and why you ought to look at your taxes a little differently.

What We're Reading

  • George W. Bush talks to the Dallas Morning News about the new Bush Center and his lack of regrets about his presidency.
  •  555-page document just might topple Marco Rubio's presidential ambitions.
  • Edward Luce writes that the U.S. has major Germany envy when it comes to domestic production.
  • Now that corporations are people, shouldn't they be taxed like people?
  • Rick Perlstein asks why all the long-debunked economic Reaganisms, like all that supply-side hooey, have been such enduring myths.
  • Some form of gun control looked like it might get through Congress, but cowardly conservatives, Democrats and Republicans both, are starting to get cold feet.
  • There's at least one thing to cheer about in Obama's budget: a few million dollars to support the desperately needed gun violence reporting system that the NRA has been fighting for decades.
  • The Louisville Courier-Journal, Kentucky's largest newspaper, has weighed in on the McConnell tapes and called them "despicable" and damning.
  • California has started an investigation of dark-money political donations and conservatives are scared: "A lot of folks are going to have their dirty laundry hung out, and it's not going to be pretty."
  • The Fed snubbed Elizabeth Warren's information request last week, and the freshman senator has raised an unholy racket over it (about time somebody did).

Poll of the Day

Gallup has found that fewer Americans think their income taxes are fair than in any year since 2001. The percentage, a still surprisingly high 55, is down from last year's 59 and 2003's high at 64 percent. 70 percent of liberals perceive their taxes to be fair, compared to 45 percent of conservatives and 59 percent of moderates. Overall, 50 percent of Americans feel their taxes are too high, while 45 percent say they're "about right."

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