“An Open Letter to Bill Bennett” is a letter that advocates for the decriminalization of drugs. It was written in 1989 when George H. Bush was proposing to launch his nearly $3 billion anti-drug campaign on September 5, 1989 where he declared he was going to increase the funding for the war on drugs. This was suggested at a time where there was a drug epidemic, especially with crack cocaine, and was “ravaging the nation’s cities and claiming the lives of citizens” (295). The war on drugs objective was to reduce the use of drugs by making drug use unaffordable (highly priced and sparse). Milton Friedman, however, believed otherwise. Friedman was convinced that putting more money towards the prohibition of drugs would only worsen the nation and make matters unmanageable. In consequence of his firm stance on the war on drugs, he wrote a letter to Bill Bennett, who was in charge of drug-control policies at the time. Even though this letter was written to Bennett, it was directed more towards the public, in hope of gaining their support. Although Friedman continually emphasizes the health of the nation, implying that is his main concern on the issue, his true motive involves the money that is being put toward the campaign. Friedman uses a variety of techniques throughout his letter in order to effectively persuade the audience on his view of decriminalizing drugs.
Earlier in the essay, Selzer gives background on who Friedman is. Selzer comments that Friedman is “a well-known staunch conservative (even libertarian) whose ‘monetarist’ approach to economics influenced the policies of Ronald Reagan and his successors, is a Nobel laureate in economics who taught for many years at the University of Chicago and who was later affiliated with the Hoover Institute at Stanford University” (294). His standing in its own automatically demonstrates his credibility. Seeing that he has influenced political figures, was a professor at exceptional universities, and was awarded a Nobel Prize, furthers his ability to persuade the audience in account of his outstanding reputation. The audience will more likely be in favor of his ideas because he has been awarded for them in the past. In addition, Friedman alludes to his previous experience on writing excerpts pertaining to the related issue called, “Prohibition and Drugs”. This also builds his credibility on the issue because it leads the audience to believe that he knows what he is talking about. At the beginning of the letter, he opens with a quote by Oliver Cromwell, which relates the letter to the issue at hand. This quote further establishes his authority ensuring the audience he is well-spoken and educated. Having this reputation helps sway the audience towards his beliefs because his credibility forms trust between him and the reader. It is natural for someone to instinctively lean towards an educated figure more than an uneducated one because they believe that they have had more experience concerning the issue, therefore creating additional assurance in the reader, ultimately persuading them.
Friedman continues to appeal to the emotions of the audience in various manners. He explains that countries would not be suffering if drugs were legalized. He also involves the audience in his letter and forms a basis of direct connection between the reader and himself when he says “every friend of freedom, and I know you are one, must be revolted as I am by turning the United States into an armed camp” (307). Not only is he relating himself with the audience, but also using strong language and claims while doing so. By saying assertive claims such as “I know you are one” and “must be revolted” convinces the reader to agree with him because it seems as though it is the right choice. His forceful language makes the reader feel as though it is wrong to think otherwise. Other powerful words and phrases Friedman uses include murderous, human liberty, freedom, death, corruption, and innocent. These words help side the reader with his claims by appealing to the audience’s emotions, often kindling the feeling of fear and guilt. These words and phrases tend to exaggerate his sentences, dramatizing the meaning and ultimately strengthening his argument.
Friedman also uses logical reasoning throughout his letter. At the beginning of the letter, Friedman agrees with the reader by saying “you are not mistaken” to believe that drugs are ruining lives of people, however, rationalizes where the readers mistake actually is, illegality. By using reason, he grabs the readers attention by telling them they are correct however, specifies where they went wrong and why. He later supports the decriminalization of drugs but explaining how legalizing drugs would not stop the people from treating drugs as the do alcohol and tobacco. He also gives specific examples of places suffering from the war on drugs. Friedman says, “Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru would not be suffering from narco-terror” (307), which gives evidence to support his claim, persuading the reader more.
Friedman effectively persuades the reader by the language he uses, appealing to the emotions of the audience, using evidence and reason, and establishing his credibility. All these components make his argument stronger and increasingly interesting, and seem to be crucial elements when attempting to persuade the audience.