By lex, on July 19th, 2011
Our Marianne sent me a note that I thought it would be fun to share with the crowd. It turns out that Mississippi was a dry state until 1966, at which point the several counties and municipalities were authorized to determine for themselves whether or not they would remain dry or go wet. Any politician on the stump would have to eventually grasp the nettle on which side of the issue he came down, virtually ensuring the alienation of one or another substantial voting bloc. The dry position was deeply laden with hypocrisy, the state was fairly drowning in booze and a “revenuer” was empowered by Jackson to ensure the sale of the illegal beverage was thoroughly and fairly taxed.
In 1952, a young politician named Noah “Soggy” Sweat was asked to address the state house on his opinion about the vexing issue. He had carefully crafted so brilliant a masterpiece of double-speak that the speech became a piece of political iconography, and a by-name example of the relativist fallacy.
It went thus:
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.
“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.
(Stunned silence, even louder applause)
Click here to listen to a reprise of the speech in 2000 by Mississippi state representative Ed Perry in 2003.
In possibly related news, the Senate has “unexpectedly” arrived at a compromise over the upcoming debt ceiling:
A surprise jolt of bipartisan support emerged Tuesday for a $3.7 trillion deficit-reduction plan that had been in development for months, though it was thought to be dead just several weeks ago.
Roughly half of the Senate’s 100 members sat through an hour-long briefing on the plan, which was designed by a group of lawmakers known as the “Gang of Six” and would cut spending, overhaul entitlement programs such as Medicare, rework the tax code, and make significant changes to Social Security.
The plan is sweeping in its scope but was thought for months to be both overly ambitious and slightly ambiguous, which nearly led the effort to collapse in recent weeks. But the plan was revived, in part by its lead authors—Sens. Mark Warner (D., Va.) and Saxby Chambliss (R., Ga.)—and the flood of bipartisan support coming out of the meeting surprised them both, the lawmakers said.
Substitute, “if by taxation” or “if by spending” for the speech above and you’ll see that in 50-odd years politicians have become no less duplicitous, but a great deal less eloquent.