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:
In the 1950's, the subject of alcohol was a risky topic for a politician to address in Mississippi. Federal prohibition had been killed back in 1933 by the 21st amendment but wasn't until 1966 that Mississippi finally repealed their state prohibition law. Hell, Mississippi got into the prohibition of alcohol game all the way back in 1907, 12 years before the country gave into the fad.
On the one side, The Drys would campaign against anyone who supported legalizing alcohol. On the other hand, The Wets weren't too keen on people who went on about keeping it illegal or worse, making it more illegal. Yeah, it was illegal, but the state of Mississippi still managed to tax most of the black market booze. When politicians were out campaigning, they'd frequently be challenged on their position on 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.
It was in that climate that, in 1952 Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr. wrote and gave a speech. It's know by the name of If by whiskey... or simply The Whiskey Speech. Sweat was just 30 years old, a first term Representative. He worked on this speech for over two months before he ever gave it. It may have been short, but it was finely wrought.
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.
The speech is a classic, and is the ultimate prototype for a politician talking out of both sides of his mouth. It brought art to doublespeak. William Safire included in his book Safire's Political Dictionary as a name for the far more banal version of the fallacy of agreeing with both sides. It also happens to be hilarious, and seemingly intentionally so. In the annuls of oratory, it has certainly earned its place.
This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.
Some might think it slightly tragic that Sweat, a judge, law professor, and one-term representative, left as his most enduring achievement in a long career a humorous speech. I personally can't imagine a better legacy.