Another Magical Tee Vee Moment ► Richard Nixon’s Checkers Speech
Jackie Gleason keeping Richard Nixon from falling in the
drink in Inverrary, Florida, a few miles from where I live.

Dateline September 23, 1952 – Under fire for taking money from his private backers to pay expenses, Richard Nixon went on national tee vee and delivered what has come to be known as The Checkers Speech.

At the time he was Senator Richard Nixon, having won over Helen Gahagan Douglas in 1950 after accusing her of being a Communist, who was “pink right down to her underpants.” Tapped to be General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vice presidential running mate, Nixon ran into trouble two months later when the press learned of a fund that ‘topped off’ Nixon’s salary of $12,500 (which was about $150,000 in 2009 dollars, according to the WikiWackyWoo). As demands grew for Nixon to resign from the ticket and his senate seat, Eisenhower started to distance himself from the party’s GOP pick. To save his position on the GOP ticket, not to mention his seat in the Senate, Nixon convinced Ike to allow him to go on tee vee and make his case directly to the ‘Merkin people. However, Nixon wanted Eisenhower to make a decision on whether to keep him on the ticket immediately after the broadcast. Eisenhower wouldn’t agree to that, so Nixon famously said to the General who saved Europe for democracy, “[G]eneral, there comes a time in matters like this when you’ve either got to shit or get off the pot.” Even at that, Eisenhower said it would take a few days to determine which way the wind was blowing.

At 9:30 PM EST Nixon gave the following speech to all of ‘Merka:

The speech was both maudlin and heart-warming. It became known as The Checkers Speech, a term Nixon hated, for this passage:

One other thing I probably should tell you because if we 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’d sent all the way from Texas. Black and white spotted. And our little girl—Tricia, the 6-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’re gonna keep it.

Nixon ended the speech with direct appeal to the ‘Merkin people to let their views be known:

I am submitting to the Republican National Committee tonight through
this television broadcast the decision which it is theirs to make. Let
them decide whether my position on the ticket will help or hurt. And I
am going to ask you to help them decide. Wire and write the Republican
National Committee whether you think I should stay on or whether I
should get off. And whatever their decision is, I will abide by it.

But just let me say this last word. Regardless of what happens I’m
going to continue this fight. I’m going to campaign up and down America
until we drive the crooks and the Communists and those that defend them
out of Washington.

The ‘Merkin people did as Nixon had asked. They inundated the GOP with letters and telegrams, Eisenhower decided to keep him on the ticket, and Senator Richard Nixon lived to fight another day, going on to become Vice President of the United States for the next 8 years.

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.

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