Partisans

04.21.13

The Politicization of the Boston Bombings Has Begun

The attacks have nothing to do with immigration reform, but partisans are rushing to exploit them anyway. Howard Kurtz examines the false arguments.

From the moment the first suspect in the Boston bombing was killed in a shootout, I was counting the minutes until the Beltway types started trying to score political points.

I didn’t have to wait long.

The bogus cry of this-raises-serious-concerns was soon heard throughout the land.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley rushed to say that in hearings he wants to examine immigration reform, “particularly in light of all that is happening in Massachusetts over the last week.”

Never mind that what happened in Boston has relatively little to do with the issues being debated on the immigration front. Many politicians and pundits do whatever they can to hitch their wagon to any news bulletin might give them a rhetorical edge.

Sometimes this is legitimate—the Newtown massacre clearly convinced President Obama to mount a passionate push for gun control—and sometimes it’s a stretch.

If a shoe bomber tries to blow up a plane, we need to debate airline security. If an oil spill erupts in the ocean, we need to check on whether there were adequate federal inspections.

But as tragic as the Boston Marathon bombing was, it doesn’t lend itself to a huge policy revamp, unless someone wants to ban fertilizer, or stop holding marathons.

The first thought upon learning that the suspects were the Tsarnaev brothers, and that they had attended school in the United States, is that we’re letting dangerous folks in on student visas. But the family, with ties to the disputed Russian region of Chechnya, is said to have emigrated here in 2002—when one brother would have been about 7 and the other about 14.

Dzhokhar, the younger brother captured by police, who graduated two years ago from the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, is in fact a naturalized citizen. He isn’t an illegal immigrant or a person who overstayed his visa. His older brother, now dead, had a legal green card.

Many politicians and pundits do whatever they can to hitch their wagon to any news bulletin might give them a rhetorical edge.

Would the situation be different if they were from the Middle East? We don’t have to speculate. When the New York Post reported—erroneously—that police had detained a Saudi suspect, Rep. Steve King was quick to react. “We need to be ever vigilant” about immigration security, the Iowa Republican told National Review. “If we can’t background-check people that are coming from Saudi Arabia, how do we think we are going to background check the 11 to 20 million people that are here from who knows where?”

So they weren’t Saudis. But both brothers were Muslims, and that has renewed an ugly debate.

Chuck Woolery, a game show host and outspoken conservative, tweeted: “All muslims are not terrorists. Most, if not all terrorists are muslims. Please dispute that.”

Leaving aside the likes of Timothy McVeigh, on what planet does that not cast a dark shadow over Muslims?

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Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Let’s be clear: The vast majority of the 11 million immigrants living illegally here are Hispanics; many of them from Mexico. The focus of all the demands for border security and electrified fences is Mexico. A couple of allegedly murderous Chechen brothers doesn’t change that. Such pro-reform Republicans as John McCain, Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham have dismissed the attempt to link their effort to the Boston violence as spurious.

What’s not spurious is to scrutinize the conduct of the FBI. The bureau questioned Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011, at the request of a foreign government to determine whether he had extremist ties. Nothing came of the inquiry. Whether the bureau botched it is a fair question.

Are there implications for gun control? We don’t know how the brothers obtained their weapons, and whether background checks could have stopped them. So the jury is out on that one.

But that didn’t stop an Arkansas state rep, Republican Nate Bell, from tweeting: “I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?” Classy.

There’s a legal debate to be had over whether the police were justified in not reading Tsarnaev his Miranda rights under a public safety exception. Most people probably don’t care, but some liberals are up in arms.

What about the budget cuts forced by the sequester? Well, any crisis legitimately gives proponents a chance to say that smart budget choices beat the meat-ax approach that Washington allowed with this year’s $85 billion in automatic cutbacks. Indiana Sen. Dan Coats told Politico that the bombing “clearly reinforces the case to make sure all the essential functions of homeland security are fully funded.”

President Obama is fair game, having made two televised statements about the bombings in the first 48 hours, attended an interfaith service in Boston and appeared before the cameras after the second suspect was nabbed late Friday night. But even Mitt Romney praised the president’s speech in Boston, and what could the administration have done to prevent what happened at a marathon in which local police were in charge?

The carnage in downtown Boston was a shock to us all. Too bad some pols and pundits are already attempting to exploit it.