How to Exploit the Boston Bombings for Political Gain

Kirsten Salyer writes about consumer culture for Bloomberg View and is the site's engagement editor. She has also written for Condé Nast Traveler, Texas Monthly and Houston Community Newspapers. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism and international studies from Northwestern University.
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We don't yet know why the Boston bombers set off explosives killing three and injuring more than 170 at the Boston Marathon. That hasn't prevented social-media speculation, rampant misinformation, and some pundits and politicians from drawing a straight line from the attack to their issues du jour. Here are some of the most predetermined conclusions of the week:

Political Appointments

Minutes after the bombs went off, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof tweeted: "explosion is a reminder that ATF needs a director. Shame on Senate Republicans for blocking apptment."

It's true the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives needs a new director. But as Bloomberg View columnist Jeffrey Goldberg writes:

"After an explosion about which we know almost nothing, and in the face of sudden, violent death at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, this is not the time to guess about the perpetrators or to recommend policy fixes that would prevent such attacks from taking place."

Tax Cuts

Former Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, argued that the bombings made the case against tax cuts on CNN's "Starting Point" on Tuesday.

"No tax cut would have helped us deal with this or will help us recover," he said. "This is very expensive."

Online Privacy

Yesterday, Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, used the bombings to argue for the passage of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which allows private businesses to share customers' personal information with the government.

"In the case of Boston, they were real bombs, explosive devices. In this case they're digital bombs. These digital bombs are on their way. That's why this legislation is so important. That's why it's so urgent. For if we don't and those digital bombs land and attack the United States, and Congress failed to act, then Congress has that on its hands."

The House passed CISPA by a vote of 288 to 127; a companion bill is planned for the Senate. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the bill because of privacy concerns.

Immigration Reform

Senator Chuck Grassley, a Iowan Republican, speaking at the first Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform, linked the issue to the bombings.

"Given the events of this week, it's important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system. While we don't yet know the immigration status of the people who have terrorized the communities in Massachusetts, when we find out, it will help shed light on the weaknesses of our system."

The suspects, Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev lived in the U.S. for years.

Gun Control

Some Second Amendment advocates are busy preemptively undermining gun-control arguments that haven't been made yet, Buzzfeed reports:

"People will try to utilize horrific tragedies in order to achieve political gain," said Michael Hammond, the legislative counsel for Gun Owners of America, a group that calls itself the "only no-compromise pro-gun lobby in Washington."

This comes just days after a bipartisan bill to expand background checks to cover more gun purchasers was blocked in the Senate.

Global Warming

In a radio interview on "The Capitol Pressroom," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo included the Boston bombing as part of the "new normal" of events such as climate change.

"So much of society is changing so rapidly. We talk about a 'new normal' when it comes to climate change and adjusting to a change in the weather patterns. 'New normal' when it comes to public security in a post-9/11 world. Where these random acts of violence, which at one time were implausible, now seem all-too-frequent."

Muslim Threat

New York Republican Representative Peter King, who chairs the House subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, said the Boston events indicate a need for local law-enforcement to increase their surveillance of Muslim communities. He told the National Review:

"Police have to be in the community, they have to build up as many sources as they can, and they have to realize that the threat is coming from the Muslim community and increase surveillance there."

Civil Liberty

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, tweeted today that the bombings were a good excuse to dispense with Constitutional rights.

"If captured, I hope Administration will at least consider holding the Boston suspect as enemy combatant for intelligence gathering purposes."

In another tweet, he wrote: "The last thing we may want to do is read Boston suspect Miranda Rights telling him to 'remain silent.'"


You have to read it to believe it.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.