Standing firmly on the fence

Published 9:44 am Saturday, August 1, 2009

Into the fray of columnist Rex Alphin’s poetic toast to adult beverages on this page last week and a teetotaler’s vigorous letter of response, this publisher will not dare step.

Instead, I stand firmly with the late Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat Jr., a judge and state legislator in my native Mississippi who was pressured by his constituents in 1952 to take a stand in the state’s heated debate over prohibition.

Liquor was still illegal at the time in Mississippi. Yet the state collected a “black market” tax that put millions of dollars in the state’s coffers each year.

Sweat, who had been elected to the state Legislature at the ripe age of 24, delivered to his colleagues in 1952 what he would later copyright as the “Whiskey Speech.”

In the great tradition of political doublespeak, I reprint it here in its entirety.

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 infirmed; 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.