Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Nick takes a question from the audience

Wherein rhetorical flourishes are appreciated

In anticipation of the movie Thank You For Smoking, I quote another bit from the book by Christopher Buckley. Nick Naylor, spokesman for the tobacco lobby, is speaking at Clean Lungs 2000:
But then it happened, during the Q and A. Some woman about halfway back got up, said that Nick "seemed like a nice young man," prompting guffaws; said she wanted "to share a recent experience" with him. Nick braced. For him, no "shared experience" with anyone in this crowd could possibly bode well. She launched into a graphic account of a dear departed's "courageous battle" with lung cancer. Then, more in sadness than in anger, she asked Nick, "How can you sleep at night?"

No stranger to these occasions, Nick nodded sympathetically as Uncle Harry's heroic last hours were luridly recounted. "I appreciated your sharing that with us all, ma'am, and I think I speak for all of us in this room when I say that we regret your tragic loss, but I think the issue here before us today is whether we as Americans want to abide by such documents as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. If the answer is yes, then I think our course is clear. And I think your uncle, who was I'm sure a very fine man, were he today, might just agree that if we go tampering with the bedrock principles that our Founding Fathers laid down, many of whom, you'll recall, were themselves tobacco farmers, just for the sake of indulging a lot of frankly unscientific speculation, then we're placing at risk not only our own freedoms, but those of our children, and our children's children." It was crucial not to pause here to let the stunning non sequitur embed itself in their neural processors. "Anti-tobacco hysteria is not exactly new. You remember, of course, Murad the Fourth, the Turkish sultan." Of course no one had the faintest notion who on earth Murad the Fourth was, but people like a little intellectual flattery. "Murad, remember, got it into his head that people shouldn't smoke, so he outlawed it, and he would go out at might dressed up like a regular Turk and wander the streets of Istanbul pretending to have a nicotine fit and begging people to sell him some tobacco. And if someone took pity on him and gave him something to smoke--whammo!-Murad would behead him on the spot. And leave the body right there in the street to rot. WARNING: SELLING TOBACCO TO MURAD IV CAN BE DANGEROUS TO YOUR HEALTH." Nick moved quickly to the kill: "Myself, I'd like to think that we as a nation have progressed beyond the days of summary executions for the crime of pursuing our own definition of happiness." Thus, having compared the modern American anti-smoking movement to the depredations of a bloodthirsty seventeenth-century Ottoman, Nick could depart, satisfied that he had temporarily beaten back the horde a few inches. Not a lot of ground, but in this war, it was practically a major victory.


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