Henry: Call terrorism by its name
When President Barack Obama spoke to the nation after the deadly Boston Marathon explosions Monday, he made a point of saying there are no Republicans and Democrats at moments of national tragedy, just Americans united in concern for their fellow citizens.
How nice if that were true.
He also had a timely caution that called for more sense than sadly could be expected: "We still do not know who did this or why and people shouldn't just jump to conclusions before we have all the facts."
And so people jumped to conclusions -- the chronically political, the professionally paranoid, the whole array of Americans who have made a blood sport of political malice.
To summarize, those who hate Muslims suspected Muslims, those who hate government (especially the Obama administration) suspected the government -- all this before any facts had emerged beyond the bare details of savagery.
Never mind that it was just as plausible to assume that domestic terrorism might be involved. After all, it was Tax Day in what some sneeringly call Taxachusetts.
Was this coincidence? Who knew? The point is that initially across the universe of punditry, the knees were jerking and conclusions were being jumped to with aerobic intensity.
Unfortunately, Obama forgot his own advice. His otherwise straightforward and sensible address made no mention of the T word: terrorism. That was a mistake.
When a president makes a studied omission of something obvious, he has made a political decision. He has tacitly admitted that the political context did not blow up with the explosions and that his first concern was not about being united with fellow citizens but protecting his political image from criticism.
After Obama was finished speaking of the hate that he dared not name, a White House official confirmed to reporters that the bombings were being treated as terrorism. Of course they were.
So all this careful evasion was for nothing -- the usual suspects who were set to jump to conclusions about terrorism were already jumping. On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was the first in the administration to openly state the obvious when he called the explosions a "cruel act of terror."
The president now says this, too. About time. You'd think the Benghazi fiasco would have educated this administration about the need for candor about acts of terror.
Admittedly, the definition of terrorism can be confusing. Was the troubled young man who slaughtered the innocent children and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School a terrorist absent any ideological or religious motive beyond his own murky grievances?
Call me a jumper to conclusions, but when someone commits acts of murderous brutality on a wide scale in a public place -- such as the finish line at the Boston Marathon -- he (or she) is a terrorist, no matter what beliefs or motivations are involved. It is naive to think that not calling a killer a terrorist will somehow stop some people from blaming groups.
I will jump to further conclusions, now that I have the hang of it. Hate is an infection, one that has reached epidemic proportions in American society and the world. A lot of people think the remedy to hate is more hate, if it is focused on their favorite enemy. Trouble is, hate once loosed is not so easily contained.
It is a tall jump to the next conclusion, but I'm up for it: Those who just hate and those others who act on their hate in murderous ways are swimming in the same swamp. And, yes, some of those who jumped immediately to prejudiced conclusions about the Boston Marathon bombing don't realize that their selective disdain for humanity helps maintain the habitat where killers flourish.
One last conclusion to be jumped at: The American people are best treated as adults. The silliness of Obama in not immediately speaking the T word did not do that. Let us all call terrorism what it is without flinching and let us all grieve for the victims.
Of course, on the scale of things, the president's lack of frankness is not what is important here -- the crime overshadows everything, as a monstrous attack on innocent people that resulted in what the president called a "senseless loss." He got that right.
I had hoped to joke today, and here I am parsing tears.
Reg Henry is a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist.