Richard Nixon: Speeches, Writings, Documents

By Richard Nixon; Rick Perlstein | Go to book overview

7.
The “Checkers Speech”
(September 23, 1952)

Nixon's most famous early speech was a masterpiece
of his key political method: when in trouble, reframe
your accusers as the offending party and yourself as the
victim. Here, the Republican vice presidential nominee
stood accused of a specific charge: that he had benefited
from an improper campaign fund. Brilliantly, he
twisted it into something entirely different, and more
easily debunked: that he had exploited his office to
make himself rich. His cynically sentimental perfor-
mance—he was just another ordinary middle-class
striver; the fund was a boon to the public interest, not
a bane—included several narratively convenient false-
hoods (for instance, the little dog Checkers, which he
deviously implied his villainous enemies were at-
tempting to take from his family, was not named by his
six-year-old daughter, but came to them already
named). It also included a clever low blow that the
record-high television audience wouldn't have noted: a
hint to presidential nominee Dwight D. Eisenhower
that he knew of financial improprieties in his own past
(“a man that's to be President … must have the confi-
dence of all the people”), and that if Eisenhower didn't
play ball he'd lower the boom on him. He also offered

-64-

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