Condemn “the senseless loss.” Pray for the victims and their families. Praise police and other first responders. Tell people they “shouldn’t jump to conclusions.” And, above all, promise an anxious nation that evil-doers will be caught and punished.
In his first public remarks after the Boston Marathon bombings, President Obama stuck to a grimly familiar script—the one read by President Clinton immediately after the Oklahoma City bombings in April 1995 and by President George W. Bush following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes.
Actually, almost every U.S. president is forced to respond to tragedies of some sort with a similar mix of remorse and resolve. It’s a tricky business in the first hours of a crisis, when more is unknown than known. The elements include:
Faith: “The American people will say a prayer for Boston tonight,” Obama said in the White House briefing room.
Scant information: “We don’t yet have all the answers," Obama said, "but we do know that multiple people have been wounded, some gravely....”
Bipartisanship: Obama said he had briefed congressional leaders who agreed that on this tragic day there are no Republicans and no Democrats. “We are Americans united in concern for our fellow citizens.”
Heroes: “We salute all those who assisted and responded,” the president said.
Calm: “We still do not know who did this or why, and people shouldn’t jump to conclusions before we have all the facts."
Resolve: “But make no mistake,” Obama said, “we will get to the bottom of this.”
Retribution: “Any responsible individual, any responsible groups, will feel the full weight of justice,” Obama said. “We will find out who did this and we will hold them accountable.”