Judge Soggy Sweat’s Whiskey Speech as Told and Read by John Grisham: A Template for the Ongoing Gun Safety Debate

Here is a long-standing template for all political speeches, especially in the aftermath of the mass murders in Newtown, Connecticut. Once again, like clockwork, immediately after the senseless destruction of human life, we are greeted with the recycled cases for and against further gun control.

These are one-sided arguments that achieve nothing except polarization. There will be no progress on reducing wanton violence against innocent children until both sides can articulate the case being made for the other side. If I can demonstrate that I know the case for and against something, then I am more likely to be able to achieve a compromise than if I only know my position and you only know your position. It is not enough to say, “I respect your option,” rather, if I can articulate your position as eloquently as I can mine, as passionately as I can mine, then I have earned your respect. Then—and only then—can progress be made on all controversial issues: gun control, the death penalty, abortion, gay marriage, climate control, school vouchers, civil rights, marijuana.

The filibuster in the U.S. Senate is not likely to change. Requiring all speeches on the Senate floor to use the Soggy Sweat (what a name!) template would be more effective. Sweat’s speech was made when he was a twenty-something lawmaker in Mississippi in 1952 at a time the state legislature was debating the legalization of alcohol beverages, something that would not happen until 14 years later in 1966.

Here’s the template: Judge Soggy Sweat’s Whiskey Speech.

“If you mean whiskey, 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 that evil drink that topples Christian men and women from the pinnacles of righteous and gracious living into the bottomless pits of degradation, shame, despair, helplessness, and hopelessness, then, my friend, I am opposed to it with every fiber of my being.

“However, if by whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the elixir of life, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer, the stimulating sip that puts a little spring in the step of an elderly gentleman on a frosty morning; if you mean that drink that enables man to magnify his joy, and to forget life’s great tragedies and heartbreaks and sorrow; if you mean that drink the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars each year, that provides tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitifully aged and infirm, to build the finest highways, hospitals, universities, and community colleges in this nation, then my friend, I am absolutely, unequivocally in favor of it. This is my position, and as always, I refuse to be compromised on matters of principle.”

Here is a fellow Mississippian, John Grisham, setting the context for the man and the speech and reading it for us:

Understanding the Template

This is a classic example of doublespeak in politics. We hear them all the time. Are they terrorists or freedom fighters? Job creators or welfare enablers? Constitutionalists or revisionists? Liberals or conservatives?

Richard Nordquist over at About.com has a great analysis of the Sweat speech. He writes, in part,

“Though I’m tempted to call Sweat’s speech a lampoon, that word’s etymology (from the French lampons, “let us drink”) may betray a certain bias. In any event, the speech stands as a parody of political doublespeak and an artful exercise in employing audience-flattering connotations.

“The classical figure underlying the speech is distinctio: making explicit references to various meanings of a word. (Bill Clinton used the same device when he told a Grand Jury, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”) But whereas the customary aim of distinctio is to remove ambiguities, Sweat’s intention was to exploit them.

“His initial characterization of whiskey, addressed to the teetotalers in the crowd, employs a series of dysphemisms–disagreeable and offensive impressions of the demon drink. In the next paragraph he shifts his appeal to the wets in his audience through a far more agreeable list of euphemisms. Thus he takes a firm stand–on both sides of the issue.

“In these days of duplicity in the land of spin, we lift our hearts and our glasses to the memory of Judge Soggy Sweat.”

Let’s get a Soggy Sweat speech going for gun control. Help me flesh it out. Then send it to your state and local legislator.

If by guns you mean the kind of weapons used in the mass killings at Newtown, Connecticut, and countless other places where innocent lives are mowed down. If you mean assault weapons and automatic weapons that are glorified in the Mafia movies and video games. If you mean weapons that are easily purchased at unregulated gun shows. If you mean rifles that are purchased without background checks or waiting periods. Add your additions in the comments section below. Then I am for gun control.

If by guns you mean the kind of arms envisioned by the authors of the Second Amendment to the Constitution. If you mean weapons that are used by the Armed Services, police departments and other law enforcement agencies. If you mean arms that are used for hunting properly or used for target practice at authorized ranges. If you mean small arms or shotguns that are used in rural environments for self-protection. Add your additions in the comments section below. Then I am against gun control.

It’s called “doublespeak.” Let’s just call it straight talk and get down to business.


About Author

Josh is an author, former blogger, media critic, x-Capitol Hill legislative aide and White House assistant, business consultant, idea marketing specialist, a squatter at the global village virtual bar and an alpine rock gardener where he lives in Woodstock, NY.