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Consistency Can be Slick Too

June 1, 2010

I’m a fan of logical consistency. It seems to me that it’s a minimum requirement of rationality. Though, on its face, it may seem that Louisiana Senator David Vitter’s surprising defense of BP is one such instance of consistency, I’m not at all sure that it is:

Much of Louisiana’s much-needed revenue comes from off-shore drilling leases. “By the same token, after every plane crash, you and I should both oppose plane travel,” Vitter quipped on Sunday to CNN’s Candy Crowley. “I don’t think that is rational.” Even Vitter’s Democratic challenger, Rep. Charlie Melancon, reiterated his support for expanded drilling in the wake of the disaster.

True, it would be ridiculous to oppose plane travel after every plane crash; but when you’re facing down one of the greatest oil disasters in US history, it’s not clear that this is just any plane crash. It’s more like suddenly discovering that those who have traveled more than 1000 hours at 30,000 feet will be stricken with terminal brain cancer. It’s a big deal associated with high risks, unclear rewards, and affecting a lot of people. It would not be ridiculous to oppose nuclear energy after Chernobyl; nor would it be ridiculous to oppose nuclear weapons after Hiroshima. What will determine whether it is ridiculous is whether it is rational to accept these risks.

Consistency for consistency’s sake is a problem. What we need to have is a serious discussion about what the risks, about the rewards, and about the alternatives. Anything else is just political posturing.

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One comment

  1. Considering that Vitter has favored abstinence-only sex ed, etc., but turned out to be on the client list of the DC Madam, I don’t think we should expect consistency to be his strong suit.



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