Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Nixon and Checkers

Another dog, Checkers, is also often credited in aiding in his master’s political career. In September 1952, Senator and vice presidential candidate Richard Nixon faced allegations of accepting bribes and gifts during the campaign. A front page New York Times story charged that Nixon had a secret slush fund of $18,000 set aside for personal use. Nixon could see that his political future was in jeopardy and presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower might remove him from the ticket. Fellow Republicans urged him to step down, while his advisors encouraged him to raise more money and buy television and radio airtime and confront the rumors. Nixon was able to raise enough money for airtime on 64 NBC television stations, 194 CBS radio stations, and 560 Mutual Broadcasting System radio stations at the cost of $75,000.

Nixon prepared his speech 24 hours in advance, but kept his remarks to himself and did not even let Eisenhower know what he was prepared to say. Nixon refused to rehearse or let the program director know the content of his remarks. Republican Party leader Dewey phoned shortly before going on and encouraged his resignation. Nixon proceeded anyway. He began the speech much like many other political speeches, “My Fellow Americans, I come before you tonight as a candidate for the vice presidency and as a man whose honesty and integrity has been questioned.” Nixon continued to talk and denied the allegations against him and told of his honest beginnings, but the turning point in the speech came when he invoked the newest family pet, Checkers.

“One other thing I probably should tell you, because if I don’t they’ll probably be saying this about me, too. We did get something, a gift, after the election.

A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog, and believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore, saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was?

It was a little Cocker Spaniel dog, in a crate that he had sent all the way from Texas, black and white, spotted, and our little girl Tricia, the six year old, named it Checkers.
And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog, and I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it.” (watch the speech here)

When asked about the speech afterwards, Nixon said the idea to include Checkers in the speech came from Roosevelt’s speech about Fala. Many critics credit the “Checkers speech” as saving Nixon’s political career as vice president. Nixon historian, David Greenberg, noted “By invoking a dog that proved to be his best friend, Nixon sealed that role for television in politics.”

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