April 19, 2013
Martin Richard (Neighborhood House Charter School/EPA)
Martin Richard (Neighborhood House Charter School/EPA)

So far today, I’ve seen people use the events in Boston to support and to oppose new gun restrictions, to oppose new immigration laws, to support more cameras to ensure that no one can go unobserved in public and to argue for better protection of civil liberties. It’s still early, and I’m sure there are plenty more that I’ve missed.

I’ll just go back to what I said after Sandy Hook: It’s generally polite to hesitate a bit during or immediately after disasters, especially if there has been loss of life, before turning to politics. And most of us aren’t at our best anyway when we’re attempting instant reactions; there’s nothing lost by waiting a few hours or a day, and it’s a good way of avoiding saying something that will look really stupid.

But beyond that? Of course people should react to events by turning to politics. Of course.

With apologies, I’m just going to repeat now what I said then:

Politics is, in one sense, all about how we collectively organize ourselves — little decisions such as which laws to pass, and big questions such as whether to pass some sorts of laws at all. We cannot escape politics; it’s everywhere in our lives, whether government is visible or even when government is absent, because it’s a political decision for government to be there or not.

Nor, as citizens of the United States of America, should we wish to escape politics. The United States was founded as an explicitly political nation, based not on blood or land but on, of all things, a “proposition.” Indeed: one of the reasons that the revolutionaries and then the Framers of the Constitution acted as they did was because they believed strongly that political action was a great purpose and should be available to ordinary people, even when their view of who should be included was impoverished compared to our own. Regular folks — citizens — inherently have the ability, and must have the opportunity, to contribute to choices about how we organize our lives together.

None of that, of course, suggests what the political response should be, whether to an act of terrorism or to a massacre by a lunatic. Again: Sometimes there are tricky etiquette questions at play, too. No one (I hope) would go up to mourning parents and explain to them why the murder of their child supported the case for some law, at least not in the moments after it happened. To what extent does that mean we should delay our political responses when there are grieving citizens involved and no particular urgent need to act? That’s a judgment call that doesn’t have an obvious answer.

The key point, however, is that responding to events — any event — by urging and taking political action is, for citizens of the United States, extremely patriotic. So, by all means, follow etiquette and prudence in hesitating to respond to this Patriots’ Day bombing and the subsequent manhunt — but then, by all means, bring the politics.