March 1, 2022

Lessons on straddling the political ‘razorblade’

Being a politician can be much like trying to straddle a razorblade. Either way you move, ouch! The late U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson loved to tell the story about Mississippi’s Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat Jr. The long-departed lawyer, judge and legislator was a master at trying to appease both sides without the “razorblade” nicking his tender parts. 

In 1952—when the debate for legalizing liquor was brewing—here’s what “Soggy” said:

“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 home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from 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 the hearts and laughter on the 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 the drink the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars which are used to provide tender care for our crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our pitiful aged and infirm, to build highways and hospitals and school, then certainly I am for it.

“This is my stand, and I will not compromise.”

Straddlin’ Herman

When Enigma’s Bobby Rowan was alive, one of his favorite stories was how U.S. Sen. Herman Talmadge tried to straddle a political “razorblade.” On a trip to Washington, Bobby—a newly minted state senator—wanted to impress two of his Gold Dome buddies. Bobby phoned Sen. Talmadge and asked whether the three of them could visit. 

“Why, sure, Bobby, bring them by,” Sen. Talmadge drawled. “I’ve known you for a long time. I knew your daddy and your granddaddy. Fine men, mighty fine men.”

The next morning, Talmadge got on a fiery rant about liberals and big labor unions. “But, Senator,” countered one of Bobby’s colleagues, “liberals and labor unions helped elect you last time.”

“Yes, yes,” Talmadge said. “Who I am really upset with is big business. They are the ruination of country.” And with that, Bobby’s other guest said, “But, Senator, don’t you remember how the chamber of commerce and big business endorsed you last time?”

Chomping on his cigar, Talmadge turned to Sen. Rowan and scowled, “Bobby, if you want me to agree with all of your friends, you are going to have to bring them in here one at a time.”