Isn’t it a good thing Boston bombing and 9/11 have almost nothing in common. The uses of “terror”
Talking about the Patriots Day Boston bombings in a 500-word statement on the Senate floor April 16, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell did what he’s paid to do, he played politics with a terrible event about which he has no special knowledge.
He began reasonably enough: “Today, the thoughts of every American are with the people of Boston, but especially with the many victims of yesterday’s horrendous attacks, and their families.”
That’s hyperbole, of course, and there’s no way he can know if it’s true, which it likely isn’t, but the sentiment is within the range of accepted rhetorical decency in the wake of events about which there’s little meaningful to be said, unless you have some evidence, or some role in gathering it.
McConnell continued in this textbook method that public officials use to imitate a sense of caring for strangers to whom bad things happened. He enumerated the victims and re-capped the events, ending with a call for prayer “in a special way,” without suggesting what that might mean.
Then he started getting more slippery:
“As the President said yesterday, the two parties stand united today in our deepest sympathy for all of those who were affected first-hand by these heinous attacks….”
McConnell, famous for his failed commitment to make Barack Obama a one-term president by almost any means necessary, can’t bring himself to say anything as simple as that he stands with the President. He doesn’t even say the two parties stand with the President. He doesn’t say anyone stands with the President, because he certainly doesn’t stand with the President and never has.
Instead, McConnell refers to what he says the President said, which he characterizes as being united “in our deepest sympathy for all those who were affected first-hand…” – wait, say what? No sympathy for those not affected first hand? And what does “first-hand” mean, anyway? Dead, wounded, related to the dead or wounded, in the same political party as the dead or wounded…? He doesn’t say.
And it turns out that McConnell’s paraphrase of the President really isn’t very close to what the President actually said in his matter-of-fact comments that were free of emotional fawning:
“I’ve updated leaders of Congress in both parties, and we reaffirmed that on days like this there are no Republicans or Democrats — we are Americans, united in concern for our fellow citizens.
“I’ve also spoken with Governor Patrick and Mayor Menino, and made it clear that they have every single federal resource necessary to care for the victims and counsel the families. And above all, I made clear to them that all Americans stand with the people of Boston.”
McConnell went on to assume that the bombings were the work of some unnamed group, which isn’t anything anyone knew at the time – unless McConnell had special knowledge. In this jumping to an unwarranted conclusion, McConnell was again ahead of the President, as well as law enforcement and the evidence.
And then he said a stranger thing, referring to:
“our unshakeable resolve to bring those responsible, and any others who are contemplating acts like this, to justice.”
What sounds at first like boilerplate is, on closer inspection, an aspiration that is not yet achievable and would be an achievement devastating to civil rights and freedom in America. Really? Yes, indeed – bringing people to justice just because they’ve been “contemplating acts like this” suggests a dystopian future dominated by government mind control. You’ve probably seen the movie.
But McConnell has a purpose with this drift and we’re getting to it. But first he has to get away from the specific context of the unsolved Boston crime and create a bigger, scarier context, full of groups like the one he imagines attacked Boston, even though there’s no evidence for that assumption. Never mind, he delivers the terror line in a familiar trope, rooted in fear rather than reality:
“These horrific attacks are a grim reminder of the hatred and contempt that many continue to harbor in their hearts not only for our nation and its freedoms but for innocent human life.”
There’s no logical reason “these attacks” should remind anyone of any other event, and if they are a reminder why wouldn’t it be of four girls blown up in Birmingham, or a car bomb in Kabul or Karachi, or an abortion clinic bombed in Florida or Wisconsin? Or even, although it’s out of scale to the Boston event, why not think of the Murrah building in Oklahoma City?
McConnell’s rhetoric echoes President Bush twelve years ago, and with a purpose:
“On 9/11, we were forever disabused of the notion that attacks like the one that rocked Boston yesterday only happen on the field of battle, or in distant countries.”
McConnell is clearly into political speech here, equating the Boston attack with the September 11, 2001, attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Towers, even though the difference in scale is incomparable. The point here is to invite people to react with fear, not reason, and to make the so far unexplained Boston event somehow turn into the emotional equivalent of an international terror attack.
And why does McConnell play the 9/11 card here, complete with a fabricated “notion” that only the unaware held before that date? McConnell’s reason seems to appear in the next several sentences, the essential import of which seems to be: “this was your fault, you need to be more afraid, and spend more on securing the homeland.” McConnell. However, is less direct than that:
“With the passage of time, however, and the vigilant efforts of our military, intelligence and law enforcement professionals, I think it’s safe to say that, for many, the complacency that prevailed prior to September 11th has returned.”
See, it’s your fault – especially you in Boston – you were complacent! [The way McConnell has phrased this, he suggests even the military and law enforcement were complacent, though it’s not clear that’s what he means.]
“ And so we are newly reminded that serious threats to our way of life remain. And today, again, we recommit ourselves to the fight against terrorism at home, and abroad.”
And you know what “recommit” means here – more money on military and police, more surveillance, more intrusion on private life, more police state methods and procedures. Why? Because we have to, because we’re fighting “terrorism” – not just one or several terrorists, but terrorism itself.
And never mind that even 9/11 was not a “threat to our way of life,” not in and of itself – and even less so is Boston a threat to our way of life.
But 9/11 did become a tool with which to threaten our way of life – with expensive and deadly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, with expensive and disrupting militarization of American life, with expensive and suffocating new laws intended to protect “homeland security” even as the vast majority of Americans grew less and less secure economically, medically, and in the security and freedom of their persons.
And that’s where McConnell lets it rest, at a call for American panic that will echo 9/11 and build on its excesses. He winds down his remarks with further comments on the Boston event, paying appropriate homage to everyone involved. And then he concludes with a reminder of what he wants to result from this:
“…as always, as a nation we will face this sad reality head on. And show the world that America does not cower in the face of it.”
In other words, be afraid. Be very afraid.