It should be no surprise that in his two public appearances since the Boston bombings, President Obama has been restrained and cautious as much as he has been firm. In many ways, that is a lesson learned from watching history. In the immediate wake of the bombings, the biggest leadership challenge for the president, as it has been for his predecessors facing crises, is knowing what not to say just as much as knowing what to say.
The White House wanted the president to be seen as calm, in control of the response, and resolute in his determination to bring the guilty to justice. The White House also wanted him to be a uniting figure for a nation so often polarized by his presidency. "It is important to bring people together at a time like this. That's why he stressed that there are no Democrats and no Republicans today," a senior White House official said. "He also wanted to show that a tragedy like this can tell us something about ourselves, that what you see in the reflection is the nation itself" doing unselfish and compassionate things to help a shaken city and a hurting populace.
The president's planned trip to Boston Thursday to meet with victims and their families and attend an interfaith service is very much a part of what a president is expected to do after a tragedy. He uniquely is able to convey to the families the grief of the nation.