Milton Friedman’s letter to Bill Bennett, the ‘drug expert’ of the George H.W. Bush administration, is an attempt to persuade Bennett towards the legalization of drugs in the United States, for which there are several different rhetorical strategies employed. The most evident of such is the use of emotionally charged language used to invoke an emotional response in the reader, which in this case is Bennett. Examples of this are intense words such as “murderous,” “tragedy,” “innocent,” “plea,” and many others similar that, due to the vehemence of the argument, are meant to influence the inner morality of Bennett. This strategy, formally known as pathos, was utilized in the hope to alter Bennett’s opinion on drug policy in the U.S., attempting to shift his attitude away from the strict ‘war on drugs’ policy towards free, open markets. This particular strategy is meant to invoke empathy into Bennett for the victims of drug violence and death as a result of his policies, thus altering his mindset. The most powerful instance of this is in the statement, “Every friend of freedom, and I know you are one, must be as revolted as I am by the prospect of turning the United States into an armed camp,” which plays on Bennett’s judgements of himself, as of course he must support freedom at all costs as a powerful advisor to the President. While this approach can certainly be of benefit in many situations, it certainly would not be the most effective of persuasive devices to convince a politician, as withdrawal from empathetic tendencies is common if not necessary for anyone in such a position of power.
Perhaps more beneficial a strategy is that of credibility, formally known as ethos, which utilizes the trustworthiness and reputation of Friedman to convey the understanding that he is a reliable source for this topic and thus should be taken seriously. This is not a difficult task for Friedman, as he is a well known conservative economist who has won a Nobel prize and worked at some of the most prestigious universities in the nation, however it is still important to establish this as such. One of the most notable ways he does this is in referring to an article he had written seventeen years earlier on this exact same topic, establishing the consistent longevity of his research in this field. This demonstrates that Friedman has been paying attention to how certain policies have affected the drug community over time, illustrating that he has witnessed the longstanding issues that anti-drug policies have created. Another example of this approach, though less powerful, is the use of an Oliver Cromwell quote to initiate the letter, which creates an understanding that Friedman is someone who is well read. However, this was a very popular quote, so the use of this may not in fact be to validate his credibility but to utilize emotional strategies, as the quote is profoundly religious and thus can effect the moral compass of Bennett. While this strategy is extremely important, it is not necessary for Friedman to demonstrate his credibility, as he is already very well known and respected in popular media.
The most effective of rhetorical devices used by Friedman is that of logos, or the logical reinforcement of the arguments presented. As a politician, Bennett would appreciate this approach the most, as it is merely an attempt to bring about recognition that the previous policies are faulty and there is a more effective approach out there. The first example of this is brought forth just after a tactical validation of Bennett’s intentions, as it must be clear that this article is not being written to devalue the importance of loosening the grip of drugs on this country, but rather to propose a more practical way of doing such. Once this is established, Friedman suggests that the very policies being employed to fight this grip is what is strengthening its hold, and thus change is not only important but necessary. This is logic is rationalized through not only the use of reasoning, but emotionally charged language and credibility as well, using profoundly emotional words and references to the economic terms that Friedman is familiar with to strengthen to the argument put forth. This is where the power of Friedman’s letter comes from, not in the individual use of rhetorical strategy, but the collective use of them all to bolster the morality, credibility, and reasoning of his argument. While logos is certainly the most convincing of his approaches, without Friedman’s reputation and employment of emotionally charged language, his argument would have been far weaker.