The Persuasive Writing Skills of Children
My daughter recently had to take a writing test mandated by the state. The format of this particular test was to have the kids write a "persuasive letter". The topic, which the kids could take either side of, was "Should schools add an additional two weeks to the annual school schedule?"
I thought it outstanding that persuasive writing skills of the 7th graders were tested simply because good persuasive writing might be the most important type of writing a child should learn to do well. It is a skill that will be used their entire life.
Paul Chartrand, a former Maine State Legislator and now wine importer, has certainly put the talent of persuasive writing to good use in a letter to the Kennebec Journal Morning Sentinel that argues against the pending Direct Wine Sales legislation in that state. What Mr. Chartrand’s letter demonstrates is that good persuasive writing combined with a disregard for the truth can often make a poor argument appear much better than it is.
From Mr. Chartrand’s letter:
"For a small state, Maine already has an incredible choice of
wines and beers available to customers through our wholesale
and retail distribution….Can a Maine retail
customer buy every single wine available in the United States?
Wineries not selling in Maine have chosen to
bypass the state in their nationwide distribution plans in order
to avoid the time and cost involved, while focusing their
resources on larger markets. They could pay Maine license fees,
register their products and develop distribution, but they refuse
to undertake that task."
There’s nothing about this part of the letter that is untrue. In fact, Mr. Chartrand’s description of why many wineries choose not to distribute wine in Maine is dead on. But what’s brilliant about this short description of the circumstance that result in many wines remaining unavailable to Maine consumers is the subtle insinuation that the wineries that choose not to distribute their wine in Maine are just lazy. They just don’t want to go through the process. But here’s where Mr. Chartrand’s writing skills are on display. He wisely fails to note that it’s not simply a matter of "registering" one’s wines and a simple task to "develop distribution." Rather, a wholesaler in Maine must agree to distribute your a wine before the winery can enter the state. As in most other states, the only wines that are distributed in Maine are the one’s that are chosen by distributors, making Maine, like most others, a state whose selection of wines are determined by a very tiny group of folks who have no contact with consumers and usually have no interest in distributing a wines that are made in very small supply.
Then Mr. Chartrand goes on to use a writing technique I like to call, "Inserting and twisting".
"Instead they [wineries, presumably] whine, pressuring Maine
customers and government for an easy way into the state,
avoiding the work and fees the rest of us pay to sell here. Rather
than admitting Maine customers are not so important to them,
these wineries cleverly blame big government."
Wow! That’s good writing!! Wineries are whiners who don’t care about Maine wine lovers. Why? Because they want the right to obtain a permit to sell wine directly to Maine residents without going through a distributor. I know, the underlying reasoning is loopy in the extreme, but you have to appreciate the deftness with which the knife was inserted and twisted. The fact of the matter is, Mr. Chartrand is on his way to arguing that the conditions under which Maine residents obtain wine ought to remain as complicated as possible and as expensive as possible for wineries. Why? Well, because, of course. Note there is no reason offered here why Maine residents ought to be prohibited from obtaining wines distributors don’t offer other than the implication that making wine difficult to get into the hands of Maine residents is the way it is and the way it should be.
But now watch this flawless turn in the argument:
spends thousands of dollars and hours every year for the
privilege of legally selling our wines in 25 states, including
Maine. No question about it, alcohol sales requirements are
expensive and burdensome. The United States and Maine have
antiquated systems. But it won’t be fair unless it changes for
everyone. All I, and other Maine wine dealers, ask is a level
Wow!!! In five short sentences Mr. Chartrand has admitted that Maine’s laws are burdensome and antiquated and inefficient, while implying that there ought to be some sort of national standard set to level the playing field for wine sales and distribution…all after he just got finished defending a patently unfair system of wine distribution. And in addition, he makes the brilliant move of ginning up sympathy for his own plight. And again, Mr. Chartrand makes the strategically proper decision not to mention that under the legislation now being considered, Maine’s laws would offer a level playing field for those that want to go through a distributor or those that want to sell direct to consumers. IMPORTANT RULE OF PERSUASIVE WRITING: AVOID THE TRUTH AND EVEN SUGGEST THE OPPOSITE IF DOING OTHERWISE WILL HURT YOUR ARGUMENT.
Chartrand finishes with flourish:
"If the newspaper wishes Maine government
to subsidize distant wineries while Maine business suffers, so be
it. It does not surprise me that your last letter on this came from
Kennewick, Wash., home to many such "whine-eries.
year of budget deficits, I vote for continuing to collect all fees
that Maine can collect from alcohol sales."
Once again, Chartrand does not mention that all sales of wines direct to Maine customers from out-of-state shippers would be taxed [see rule above] or that the wines that would be shipped are most likely those that are not distributed in the state, can’t be found in the state and would not lead to any cannibalization of sales at Maine retail stores. Another good move in this persuasive letter.
But then comes the flourish: "Whine-eries". Wow!!! Not bad. Chartrand has turned those Maine wineries, who under this legislation would be allowed to finally ship direct to Maine residents, into nothing but whiners.
The cynical would simply call this projection on the part of Chartrand, who I suspect simply can’t abide the notion of fair competition. But you have to admit, it’s a bold rhetorical move.
I’m going to show this letter to my daughter as an example of what can be created when really, really good persuasive writing is combined with a disregard for truth .