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Obama goes from scolder in Washington to comforter in Boston

In Washington, President Obama is locked in a battle with many voices in Congress over gun control, but at a moment of national tragedy, such as the Boston Marathon bombings, the president stands alone.

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A devoted sports fan, Obama is said to have penned much of Thursday’s remarks himself.

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He went on to pledge, as he had just hours after the bombings, that those responsible will be found and brought to justice. “But more than that," he added. "our fidelity to our way of life, to our free and open society, will only grow stronger.”

But with the investigation into the marathon bombings turning up clues – including photos of individuals of interest and painstaking assembly of bomb parts pointing to unsophisticated devices built to kill and maim – that keep alive the theory that the attack could have been the work of domestic extremists, more attention is being paid to past domestic “acts of terror.”

Two are getting attention more than others: the 1996 Centennial Park bombing at the Atlanta Summer Olympics and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing of a federal government building.

The Oklahoma City bombing, in particular, became embroiled in the prevailing political storms, as an embattled Mr. Clinton addressed the deadly act of an antigovernment terrorist in a way that some Republicans charged used the tragedy for political gain.

Four days after the bombing, Clinton traveled to Oklahoma City and delivered words that both comforted and reassured his audience and the country. “You have lost too much, but you have not lost everything,” he told his audience, noting that America was with them. He then told the nation, “I will not allow the people of this country to be intimidated by evil cowards.”

But Clinton was also castigated by some critics for using the Oklahoma City bombing to single out some of his harshest detractors for the way that, in his view, their fiery rhetoric appeared to condone violence.

“We hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other,” Clinton said. “They spread hate. They leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable.”

By contrast, Obama did not accuse anyone of encouraging gun violence in his Rose Garden comments, but he did suggest that political expediency was the only motivation that could explain the Senate’s rejection of what he called a “common sense” measure expanding background checks. And he accused opponents of the bill of "lying" about what it would and wouldn't do. 

In rebuffing the president, some opponents of additional gun safety measures have accused Obama of using the Sandy Hook tragedy for political gain. Libertarian Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky charged the president with employing the Sandy Hook families that have lobbied members of Congress as “props” in his quest for more government regulation.

It has not been a satisfying or particularly inspiring debate on either side.

Away from Washington, Obama spent time Thursday with families of the victims of Monday’s bombings. He and Michelle visited recovering patients in several Boston hospitals, and the president stopped in to thank marathon volunteers and first-responders who have been credited with quick action that saved many lives.

It was a day for presidential comforting, the frustrations of Washington could be put off to another day.

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