SMALL STAKES ENSURE THE MINIMUM CREDIBILITY. Garance makes a very important point below. When evaluating assertions of great importance, it's always useful to see whether people talking hysterically actually act in ways consistent with their rhetoric. I've said many times that I've never found the ethical question of abortion particularly troubling, for a central reason: I won't take the "pro-life" moral position seriously until its supporters do. The anti-choice lobby uses lots of language that suggests a moral issue with stakes large enough to override a woman's fundamental rights -- "life," "killing babies," etc. -- but given that most American pro-lifers (among many other inconsistencies) think women should face fewer legal sanctions for obtaining an abortion than for spitting on the sidewalk, there's no reason to take their moral claims seriously. (And given that abortion laws on the books were essentially unenforceable against doctors who stuck to performing abortions on the right kind of women, there's little reason to believe that most citizens in states where abortion was formally illegal believed this either.) When high-stakes language is combined with small-stakes, obviously incommensurate policy objectives, there's no reason to take the former seriously.

As Garance says, the same is true of the Iraq War. Many of its dead-end supporters will talk about how we can't afford to lose -- with the implication of existential threat -- but given that most of them (including, most importantly, the President who, through his policy, sees success in the war as less important than upper-class tax cuts) don't act in ways that reflect such a belief when it comes time to actually make trade-offs and sacrifices. In the context of the policies actually being advocated, high-stakes claims about the Iraq War are propaganda, nothing more. And, relatedly, someone should ask the few people willing to advocate actual high-stakes policies -- like Max Boot -- why they support the war despite the fact that the policies they consider essential to accomplishing a desirable outcome have never had any chance of being implemented.

--Scott Lemieux

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