Steve Erickson at the American Prospect said 9/11 will forever have an impact on how Americans react to events that have the markings of a terrorist attack:
Consequently, second explosions now instantly suggest something foreign because so often it involves the conspiracy we've instinctively come to think of as jihadist; we assume lone wolves are domestic, or "American," almost by definition. Two resonates as the numerical language of foreign orchestration and thus, within minutes of it happening, some of our more intuitive political chatterboxes deduced Islamic cunning in the attack at Boylston Street near Copley Square, with at least one commentator offering that the whole thing certified Barack Obama's status as the worst president ever.
Americans don't do ambiguity. This is why some part of us is grateful for a clarifying second boom that removes all doubt about the nature of the act if not its whys and wherefores. While the extremes of our political life conclude one thing or the other—and let's not forget perfectly loony leftist suppositions that George W. Bush was really behind 9/11, not to mention other random theories that the current incident was an anti-tax statement by the Tea Party—most Americans are ready, in times like this week, to keep their ideological powder dry while vesting their energy and passion as patriots in mourning the dead and rescuing the wounded, and manifesting a spirit that won't be beaten. Mayhem in duplicates is enough clarity for the moment, but in the meantime, history grooms us to wait for the dropping of second shoes.
While comparisons to 9/11 abound, Charles Krauthammer writes of President Barack Obama's "linguistic unease" about using the word "terrorism," and how in the U.S. the term has a loaded connotation:
There was much ado about President Obama's non-use of the word "terrorism" in his first statement to the nation after the bombing. Indeed, the very next morning, he took to the White House briefing room for no other reason than to pronounce the event an "act of terrorism." He justified the update as a response to "what we now know." But there had been no new information overnight. Nothing changed, except a certain trepidation about the original omission.
There was no need to be so sensitive, however. The president said that terrorism is any bombing aimed at civilians. Not quite. Terrorism is any attack on civilians for a political purpose. Until you know the purpose, you can't know if it is terrorism.
Obama has performed admirably during the Boston crisis, speaking both reassuringly and with determination. But he continues to be linguistically uneasy. His wavering over the word "terrorism" is telling, though in this case unimportant. The real test will come when we learn the motive for the attack.
As of this writing, we don't know. It could be Islamist, white supremacist, anarchist, anything. What words will Obama use? It is a measure of the emptiness of Obama's preferred description — "violent extremists" — that, even as we know nothing, it can already be applied to the Boston bomber(s). Which means the designation is meaningless.
Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare said that the second suspect must be apprehended alive, to ensure that authorities can interrogate him and obtain answers to the countless remaining questions surrounding the motivation and planning for the bombing: