Tuesday, November 25, 2014

If by whiskey

There is an art to speaking and not saying anything, an art which has been honed by politicians over many years. 

Some examples:

Weasel words:

A term for words and phrases aimed at creating an impression that a specific and/or meaningful statement has been made, when in fact only a vague or ambiguous claim has been communicated, enabling the specific meaning to be denied if the statement is challenged. 

"The purpose would be to ensure that people smugglers have no product to sell ... My government is not interested in pursuing a new Pacific Solution - we are committed to the development of a sustainable, effective regional protection framework ... it is also about improving the protection outcomes for refugees by establishing a framework for orderly migration."
- Julia Gillard

Broken promises:

"I know politicians are going to be judged on everything they say, but sometimes in the heat of discussion you go a little bit further than you would if it was an absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted remark, which is one of the reasons why the statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth are those carefully prepared, scripted remarks."

-Tony Abbott, interview 2010


Using words which create a contrary impression eg replacing "firing staff" with "streamlining the workforce"

The double bind:

A question which has an inbuilt assumption such that it cannot be answered without implicating oneself, typified by “Have you stopped beating your wife?”

I came across a new one yesterday, known as “If by whiskey”.

It refers to a 1952 speech by Noah S “Soggy” Sweat Jnr (1922-1996). Sweat received his nickname from the phrase "sorghum top," a reference to the way in which his hair resembled a sugar cane tassel.

At various times during his life Soggy had been a judge, lawyer, district attorney and Ole Miss professor. In 1947 Soggy was elected to government in Mississippi. He was aged 24 and the term was for 5 years. Unfortunately he did not make it to a second term.

In the last year of his term, 1952, Soggy was part of the debate on whether or not Mississippi should end prohibition. Mississippi had kept alcohol illegal despite the end of Prohibition in 1933 by the ratification of the 21st Amendment. Indeed, Mississippi had made alcohol illegal in 1907 and kept it illegal until 1966.

Soggy’s speech in the House on the issue has become a monument to political doubletalk, inspiring other speeches known as “If by God” and “If by cannabis”.

Here is Soggy’s speech:

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.

He later commented:

"When I finished the first half of the speech, there was a tremendous burst of applause. The second half of the speech, after the close of which, the wets all applauded. The drys were as unhappy with the second part of the speech as the wets were with the first half."

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