In terms of Selzer’s article, rhetorical analysis can be understood as “an effort to understand how people within specific social situations attempt to influence others through language (Selzer 280-81). In other words, through rhetorical analysis, readers can get a better idea of what the author is trying to convey, resulting in an enhanced understanding of the work. Selzer provides an example of rhetorical analysis by analyzing Milton Friedman’s, “An Open Letter to Bill Bennett”. In 1989, Milton Friedman, a Nobel Prize Winner, addressed a letter to Bill Bennett, a prominent Conservative politician working with President Bush in the drug war, to argue why their new tactics to fight the drug war are “undermining the human liberty and individual freedom” of citizens (306). Throughout the letter, Friedman challenges the approach the Bush Administration and Bennett are taking for the war on drugs. Selzer notes that in his letter, Friedman supports his points with “his overall arrangement, some of the ways he builds credibility, and his general stylistic choices” (294). Further, readers can use rhetorical analysis to better understand how Friedman uses these techniques to make his argument stronger and to effectively deliver his message.
First, in analysis of Friedman’s overall arrangement of his letter, readers can understand how he conveys his argument. Throughout the letter, Friedman’s word choice is one of the key reasons why his argument is conveyed so clearly. In the first section of his letter, he uses very descriptive and particular words to argue his point that the tactic they have proposed will only “make a bad situation worse” (306). Further, throughout his argument, Friedman uses repetition in his sentences to reinforce his ideas and to persuade readers in the direction of his stance. For instance, in the second paragraph Friedman repeats the phrase “you are not mistaken” various times to reinforce the idea that he believes Bennett is fighting the war on drugs for the right end goal (306). Further, in the third paragraph he repeats the words “demand” and “illegality”. Word choice, especially when words used in an argument, can make all of the difference between having a strong and influential work to being ineffective.
Second, a technique often used by authors, Friedman writes using different modes of persuasion in order for him to get his point across in an effective manner and to convince audiences of his argument. Throughout the letter, Friedman appeals most to readers’ emotions. In his argument he uses words like “tragedy”, “disaster”, “murderous”, and “innocent victims” in reference to the course that Bennett and Bush are using to fight drugs (306-07). In his use of these words to appeal to emotion, not only is Friedman targeting Bennett, but he is also targeting the public, those who would later read this letter in the newspaper. Using words with such power tend to evoke emotion and will persuade readers to also oppose the tactics that are being used in the drug war. Along these lines, Friedman attempts to build up Bennett’s ego by telling him “you are not mistaken…” in a realm of different aspects of the drug war. This tactic will make Bennett feel less attacked and more likely to receive Friedman’s message with an open mind. Additionally, Friedman builds his credibility and trust with readers by starting off his letter with a quote from Oliver Cromwell. This is a good technique because it shows that Friedman is well-read, and it helps build a reader’s confidence and trust in the author. Through building his credibility, he is able to further support his already credible claims. Further, Friedman appeals to readers’ reason by providing concrete facts. For example, Friedman makes reference to the prohibition, a historical event, and how the “prohibition of drugs is a replay of our experience with the prohibition of alcoholic beverages” (307). This tactic is useful because it provides a logical reasoning and a concrete example for why the same thing that happened fifty years prior could happen again. These three different aspects of writing a piece to appeal to a reader is a tactic strategically used by many authors to effectively communicate their point.
Rhetorical analysis is a great technique that can be thought of like “critical reading”. To best understand and appreciate the strategies of an author, one must carefully study the piece through this technique of rhetorical analysis. After using this technique to analyze Milton Friedman’s piece, “An Open Letter to Bill Bennett”, readers are able to better understand the arguments that Friedman make in his letter. Overall, Friedman greatly presents his argument in a organized manner with a strong word choice and tactics that surely appeal to readers. It appears that Friedman’s letter would be extremely effective and would provoke Bennett and those in charge of the war on drugs, to reconsider and reflect on the approach they are taking and how it may affect Americans.