What does rhetoric have to do with capital punishment? Plenty actually if you want to advance an argument as well as Edward I. Koch has in his compelling essay in support of the death penalty. Koch is introduced by the editors of the book containing his essay as “The feisty, opinionated mayor of New York City…” (handout). The editors continue describing Koch’s character and abilities as they point out that he is politician with a law degree and experience as a lawyer. More specifically that he was a leader for the Democratic Party and then a congressman (handout). Koch was still mayor of New York City in 1985 when he wrote “Death and Justice”. “[The] essay, was first published in the New Republic…” (handout) a liberal American magazine. The readers of the New Republic are primarily democrats and can therefore be assumed in general to be against capital punishment. This situation has Koch in the precarious position of arguing his point contrary to the consensus of his constituents. In spite of this daunting scenario Koch is compelled to produce his essay because he wants to make in clear to his constituents that, even in light of the recently publicized statements by convicted killers that capital punishment is wrong, he [Koch] still supports the death penalty. Koch has opened his introduction with specific and graphic testimony about the statements made by the killers Messrs. Willie and Shaw. I believe that Koch has done a good job of advancing his argument through the use of the modes of persuasion which I will now demonstrate by analyzing his use of ethos, logos and pathos in his writing.
Koch has gained his audience’s attention and now he moves to earn their confidence through his use of ethos in paragraph four. He wants his audience to agree with him or at least give his position serious consideration. To achieve this goal, he presents the history of his public service and political experience, as well as his certainty in his position for capital punishment:
During my 22 years in public service, I have heard the pros and cons of capital punishment expressed with special intensity. As a district leader, councilman, congressman, and mayor, I have represented constituencies generally thought of as liberal. Because I support the death penalty for heinous crimes of murder, I have sometimes been the subject of emotional and outraged attacks by voters who find my position reprehensible or worse. I have listened to their ideas. I have weighed their objections carefully. I still support the death penalty. The reasons I maintained my position can be best understood by examining the arguments most frequently heard in opposition (320).
Koch’s language is appropriate for his audience and subject. Furthermore his credentials are powerful and even distinctive in that he has had the opportunity to evaluate the issue with “special intensity”. He is presenting himself as restrained, sincere and fair minded as he speaks in the first person to inform his...