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William Safire: Abolish the Penny

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  • Pages: 6
  • Word count: 1295
  • Category: Audience

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William Safire writes a fine argumentative piece on why America no longer has any need for a bothersome coin of copper that “costs more in employee-hours,” than it is actually worth. Safire uses compelling evidence and real life scenarios to convince his audience that we need to rid our lives of this, “outdated, almost worthless, bothersome and wasteful penny.” If the reader is able to read between the lines and use some analytical processes, they will come to find there is a hidden metaphor in Safire’s argument. He is not just furiously venting on an insignificant cent. William Safire’s positional essay is extremely influential at instilling passion in Americans and helping to open their eyes to his main claim. He accomplishes this through his strategically dialectic yet coarse humor, structure and rather odd way of getting his reader to join his crusade against this revolting “specious specie” of money.

Safire is a refined and established writer with credentials that make him worthy to write for one of the most famous newspapers in our country, which has a broad audience that reaches millions of readers. Not just any writer is given the privilege of writing for the New York Times which has one of the highest reading comprehension levels of any newspaper. Safire has even won the Pulitzer Prize; and has such aptitude that he has written speeches for President Nixon. Safire clearly states, “It’s time to re-establish my contrarian credentials,” and “Infuriate the vast majority.” These quotes let the audience know what he is accepted for as author will not be what he is writing about. The audience knows that William Safire has credentials and this creates credibility with the audience. We can only be left with the question of why and how he wants to deviate.

As I go through and count, one by one, the nine rhetorical questions, I realize that Safire never gives the reader a chance to think for themselves. He asks, “What is nickel made of? No. not the metallic element nickel.” “Where is most of Americas copper mined? Arizona.” Here he fires questions and immediately answers, then question, in a pattern of answer, question and finally another answer. Safire does a superb job of asking a question and giving the reader the answer he wants them to hear. This works well because it doesn’t give the reader’s time to think for them self. Safire purposely gives an answer to his question before the reader can think of what a counterpoint would be. The well-constructed rhetorical questions direct the listener’s thoughts to a question they hadn’t considered. Leaving the reader with only one sensible answer, being the one the William Safire wants them to have.

With no space for the reader to answer the question, the audience is directed more by the final statement that Safire makes than the actual question. The reader is left with Safire’s answer in their mind before they can develop their own. One of the effective approaches that Safire uses to cast out any doubts that the penny would be worth keeping, is by giving the counter argument to his proposal. He asserts, “Merchants would round down to $9.95, saving the consumer billions of paper dollars.” He gives the counter point to the nostalgic few still holding on to the penny, but lets the reader know that they will gain financially from this coin reform. What reader or person in general does not want to save money? This strategy of introducing the opposing argument and giving the outcome of what would happen if we abolished the penny, leaves the reader to rest easy that Safire’s solution would make their life better.

Even though Safire has a valid argument and counterargument, he still goes out of his way to use humor towards those that used to get “barbershop shaves,” or even know what being “Pound-foolish” is. At one point, Safire calls his opposing readers, “penny-pinching traditionalist” and “penny-pinching hordes.” He gets the reader to think that these are the people keeping us 30 years in the past behind, “the Brits and the French—even the French!” By using humor as a rhetoric strategy, he makes you choose: are you one of those nostalgic traditionalists that still knows what a “five-and-dime” is, or are you going to join his crusade and start a revolution? Like peer pressure, Safire uses humor to pressure the reader into joining his bandwagon.

As a leader in American reform, William Safire does an incredible job of relating to the common man’s emotions. The list he unravels is very specific: “Penny-candy?” or “Penny-ante poker?” He then asks a rhetorical question, “Any vending machine? Put a penny in and it will sound an alarm.” Then he follows with a joke, “I can’t even find a cent symbol on my keyboard anymore.” He gives multiple accounts of how we no longer use this coin. He even paints a clear picture of how people literally give this coin away with the good old “penny cup” near a merchant’s register. Safire makes the reader think back to their own personal experience and realize that in their day-to-day life the penny has zero worth to them. The reader is given the opportunity to think back to their own real life experiences that lead them to realize that they really don’t use this penny any more.

Readers begin this essay thinking it is about a small red cent but come to realize that Safire has camouflaged his true claim through his structure. In paragraph four, Safire is talking about how “it takes nearly a dime today to buy what a penny bought back in 1950.” By paragraph eleven, he states that, “If Senator John McCain would get off President Bush’s back long enough to serve the economic interests of his Arizona constituents, we would get some long-overdue coin reform.” If Safire would have come out in the beginning of the essay with this big political message, it would have shocked the reader. Instead Safire does a commendable job of concealing this metaphor by slowly building up to it with each paragraph. The way that Safire decides to reveal his main purpose allows the audience to warm up and not be overwhelmed by his true argument.

William Safire’s call to arms is not merely over some trivial penny, but something much larger. It leaves the reader asking, “What’s really behind America’s clinging to the pesky penny?” The subtleness of this message is what makes it so effective. The reader thinks that if we as a country cannot agree on something so obvious, then how will we ever get anything done. This stealth message, if comprehended, leaves the reader with a feeling of truth and awareness whether they believe we should keep some outdated penny around or not.

Comprehensively, this rhetorical solution by William Safire leaves the reader with no other option but to agree. He uses a broad range of rhetorical strategies that convince almost all of his readers. He really gets his message across by giving real life examples that abolishing the
penny makes nothing but sense. Even if the reader still has doubts as to what would happen if we did abolish the penny, Safire gives us his life-improving solution. Finally, the reader is on his side about the penny or is left to be ridiculed. Through his main claim, evidence, support, structure and strategies the reader can either sit in the past behind the French or help “close the controversy gap and fill the vitriol void.” To do so we must, “Get out those bumper stickers: Abolish the penny!” Personally, I tip my hat to William Safire and his strategic victory over the reader on the battlefield of persuasiveness.

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