Waxing Nostalgic Over Classic TV

Monday, October 27, 2008

Nixon Plays Checkers

The American election is now just days away, and all the brouhaha about Sarah Palin's $150,000 shopping spree for clothes and accessories has stirred echoes of Richard Nixon's 1952 "Checkers" speech. That was the famous speech where Nixon, the Vice-Presidential nominee with Dwight Eisenhower, attempted to show that he and his wife Pat lived a modest lifestyle by insisting that Pat didn't wear a mink coat, she wore a "respectable Republican cloth coat." Apparently life has gotten better for Republicans since 1952.

Nixon had been accused of accepting some illegal campaign contributions, and when it appeared that Eisenhower might be prepared to drop him from the ticket, Nixon went on TV and appealed directly to the public. He would let the public decide if he should remain on the Republican ticket. It was one of the first times that the young medium of television had been used in such a way.

And damned if it didn't work. Pulling on the nation's heartstrings by talking about Checkers, the cocker spaniel that he had been given as a present and was loved by his kids, he declared that "regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep him." He then looked directly into the camera and asked Americans to "wire and write the Republican National Committee whether you think I should stay on, or whether I should get off." Faced with the support of the people, Eisenhower had little choice but to let him stay on the ticket.

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