Whiskey or Not?

Timothy B. Clark

Soggy Sweat speaks to both sides of the issue.

Please indulge me, gentle reader, if I allow this column to stray to the delirious subject of political speech.

Polarization is rampant. Black is black, white is white, with little room for gray. On climate change, the choices politicians present are: Destroy our economy or destroy the Earth and all that lives upon it. On Social Security reform, it's bankrupting our children or starving our parents. On taxation, it's giveaways to the rich or stoking economic growth. On abortion, it's right to life or right to choose. And as the politicians frame the issues in terms so stark, the possibilities of compromise are diminished.

The phenomenon invites parody-as from the pen of the late Mississippi lawyer and legislator Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, who had been asked to take a stand on legalizing and taxing liquor as the state legislature debated the issue in 1952. Upon Sweat's death in 1996, The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss., said his "Whiskey Speech" had become a "monument to double talk." For your enjoyment, here it is:

"My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey.

"If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation and despair and shame and helplessness and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

"But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm, to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

"This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise."

Such a fine speech is better heard than read, so we enlisted a fine orator, Louisiana-born Paul Schott Stevens, to record Sweat's words. Stevens, who held ranking national security positions in the Reagan administration and is now president of the Investment Company Institute, can be heard at here.

Tim Signature
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