There have been two terrorist attacks on the United States in less than a year. The fact that they happened is frightening to many Americans, but that is not all that is frightening. In many ways, the reaction of government officials to the attacks was also troubling. It was the same for both attacks. Initially, there were those in government who looked for the cause of the attack at home, and it found something about America — something actually important — to blame for each attack. Perhaps they were just in denial, or perhaps they actually meant it — it’s hard to tell. They were wrong.
On the day after the Boston bombings, David Axelrod took time off from spinning for the administration to observe that President Obama’s first reaction to the attack was to think the bombing might be related to Tax Day. In other words, American taxpayers were to be the usual suspects. He and the president apparently did not know that in Boston, the day is called Patriot’s Day, not Tax Day. Patriot’s Day is a celebration of the beginning of the Revolutionary War, which admittedly started as a revolt against the kind of oppressive taxation that the administration favors. But it is not Tax Day, particularly for the millions of Americans who must request extensions because the tax code is such a disgraceful and complex mess. Never mind that the terrorists were actually living off of those taxpayers. In spite of it all, the belabored and maligned American taxpayer is not yet ready to revolt, at least as long as he can still vote for a conservative. Those Americans who actually heard Mr. Axelrod’s statement were understandably horrified.
Also on April 16, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano took time off from buying ammunition with taxpayer money to reassure Americans that, in spite of the fact that improvised explosive devices of an al Qaeda design were used by the bombers, there was no evidence of a broader plot. How reassuring. Al Qaeda can “inspire” the design — in an online magazine that bears that name — but there is no plot. Boston could go about its business because in a few days, it would be shut down in an effort to locate foreign-born terrorists still on a killing spree. Later, police would begin to investigate how two apparently unemployed siblings, neither seemingly successful students, could have produced at least two deadly and remotely detonated bombs and how they could have financed their activities and travel.
It is a familiar pattern. In the aftermath of the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, a sophisticated attack with heavy weapons on the anniversary of Sept. 11, administration officials spun the event as a spontaneous reaction to a video no one had seen. In other words, they blamed the fact that Americans generally are free to engage in whatever speech they like, no matter how provocative. It was the fault of the First Amendment. If it weren’t so delusional, it also would have been horrifying. The attack turned out to be exactly what everyone else knew it was, an organized assault by terrorists on the anniversary of Sept. 11. Imagine that.
Both Mr. Axelrod and Ms. Napolitano have been quiet lately. What a relief. There is little to be said for happy talk in a situation like this. Even worse, it is dangerous. This kind of reaction is what terrorists want. They want to divide and confuse us. There should be absolutely no chance that the conduct, values or heritage of the citizens of this country would be blamed for what the terrorists have done or will do. Instead, they need to hear that we know who and what they really are, that they will be watched, that they will be caught and that they will not succeed.
The strength of this great nation — of being an American citizen — is in a commitment to a set of principles. It is not homeland security personnel or aircraft carriers that are the ultimate guarantors of national security. While our first responders and the military play a vital and heroic role, it is our allegiance to a piece of paper that is the key to the nation’s defense. The president takes an oath of office not to defend the homeland, but rather to defend that piece of paper. Ms. Napolitano should read it. Our adversaries need to know that the commitment set out in the oath of office is one that we all share, and that nothing they can do will shake it. Tragically, there are those in the Obama administration that do not seem to get it. Instead, they seem to be inclined to blame the First Amendment, the Second Amendment, the love of liberty that is the cornerstone of the Constitution, or anything else that might be required to spin a story.
The interesting question is why. They may be worried that a policy of appeasement is not working. They may be in denial that the country under their leadership is not universally loved. They might be engaged in the wishful thinking that conservative Americans are the real enemy of the cause. The left is a global movement, after all. Or it may be just politics as usual for them.
There are real risks that come from acting like you are a liberal first and an American second. It divides the country. It makes it more vulnerable. It emboldens our adversaries into thinking that they can turn Americans against Americans, and that they can weaken the country in the process. Most Americans understand those risks. It is not at all clear that the leftists in the administration actually do.
Warren L. Dean Jr. practices law in Washington, D.C, and is an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center.