In political discourse, if-by-whiskey is a relativist fallacy
Relativist fallacy
The relativist fallacy, also known as the subjectivist fallacy, is claiming that something is true for one person but not true for someone else. The fallacy is supposed to rest on the law of non-contradiction...

 where the response to a question is contingent on the questioner's opinions and use of words with strong positive or negative connotation
A connotation is a commonly understood subjective cultural or emotional association that some word or phrase carries, in addition to the word's or phrase's explicit or literal meaning, which is its denotation....

s (e.g., terrorist as negative and freedom fighter as positive). An if-by-whiskey argument implemented through doublespeak
Doublespeak is language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words. Doublespeak may take the form of euphemisms , making the truth less unpleasant, without denying its nature. It may also be deployed as intentional ambiguity, or reversal of meaning...

 appears to affirm both sides of an issue, and agrees with whichever side the listener supports, in effect, taking a position without taking a position. A similar idiom is "all things to all people", which is often used as a negative term in politics.

Canonical example

The label if-by-whiskey refers to a 1952 speech by Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr.
Noah S. Sweat
Judge Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr. was a judge, law professor, and state representative in the U.S. state of Mississippi, notable for his 1952 speech on the floor of the Mississippi state legislature concerning whiskey, which is considered a classic example of political doublespeak...

, a young lawmaker from the U.S. state
U.S. state
A U.S. state is any one of the 50 federated states of the United States of America that share sovereignty with the federal government. Because of this shared sovereignty, an American is a citizen both of the federal entity and of his or her state of domicile. Four states use the official title of...

 of Mississippi
Mississippi is a U.S. state located in the Southern United States. Jackson is the state capital and largest city. The name of the state derives from the Mississippi River, which flows along its western boundary, whose name comes from the Ojibwe word misi-ziibi...

, on the subject of whether Mississippi should continue to prohibit (which it did until 1966) or finally legalize alcoholic beverage
Alcoholic beverage
An alcoholic beverage is a drink containing ethanol, commonly known as alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are divided into three general classes: beers, wines, and spirits. They are legally consumed in most countries, and over 100 countries have laws regulating their production, sale, and consumption...

The American columnist William Safire
William Safire
William Lewis Safire was an American author, columnist, journalist and presidential speechwriter....

 popularized the term in his column in The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

but wrongly attributed it to Florida Governor Fuller Warren
Fuller Warren
Fuller Warren was the 30th Governor of Florida.Born in Blountstown, Florida, he attended the University of Florida in Gainesville. While at the University of Florida, he was one of the early members of Florida Blue Key and was a member of the Tau Chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity...

. He corrected this reference in his book Safire's Political Dictionary, on page 337.
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