While pursuing a story about equivocation in high office, I was told, "He gave an
if-by-whiskey speech." My source, asked about his curious compound adjective, said he
thought it was a Florida political expression possibly borrowed from a Minnesota
Congressman. That triggered a call to Richard B. Stone, now a Washington banker, but a
former U.S. Senator from Florida familiar with that state's political patois. He
immediately recognized the phrase, meaning "calculated ambivalence," and
provided the following anecdote: Fuller Warren, Florida's governor in the '50s, was
running for office in a year that counties were voting their local option on permitting
the sale of liquor. Asked for his position on wet-versus-dry, he would say: "If by
whiskey you mean the water of life that cheers men's souls, that smooths out the tensions
of the day, that gives gentle perspective to one's view of life, then put my name on the
list of the fervent wets. But if by whiskey you mean the devil's brew that rends families,
destroys careers and ruins one's ability to work, then count me in the ranks of the dries.
William Safire in New York Times Magazine.
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