Chapter 9: The "Checkers" Speech
No collection of great campaign speeches would be complete without Richard Nixon’s Checkers Speech. Delivered days after the New York Post broke a story that Nixon had maintained a private fund supported by influential California backers, the speech saved Nixon’s spot on the GOP ticket and through his masterful use of the new medium of television changed the way Americans think about their elected leaders.
The GOP’s Vice Presidential nominee laid out his family’s financial details in excruciating and often mauldin detail, but the speech’s most notorious moment came when h rspoke of a little cocker spaniel dog named Checkers that had been sent to his children. “And you know, the 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 declared. Walter Lippman would call the speech the “most demeaning experience my country has ever had to bear.” These overwrought words could not alter the fact that Nixon had demonstrated the ability of television to not only humanize candidates, but also transform their interaction with voters. Above all, the Checkers speech brought into clear relief the increasingly important role of image-making in political oratory.