Checkers Speech | Study Guide

Richard Nixon

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Checkers Speech | Quotes


Now, the usual political thing to do when charges are made against you is to either ignore them or to deny them without giving details. I believe we have had enough of that in the United States, particularly with the present administration in Washington, D.C.

Richard Nixon

Here Nixon is setting himself apart from what he describes as the norm in politics. Rather than ignoring the allegations against him or simply denying them, he plans to go in a different direction with his rebuttal. According to Nixon, this is because he is fundamentally opposed to business as usual in Washington, which also suggests that he is more like the audience than his peers in Congress. This move sets the tone for the rest of the speech, which is at once aimed at making Nixon seem like an average American and at attacking the status quo as a means to promote Eisenhower's candidacy.


"How can we believe what you say—after all, is there a possibility that maybe you got some sums in cash? Is there a possibility that you might have feathered your own nest?" And so now, what I am going to do—and incidentally this is unprecedented in the history of American politics—I am going at this time to give to this television and radio audience, a complete financial history, everything I have earned, everything I have spent and everything I own, and I want you to know the facts.

Richard Nixon

By imagining what the viewer could be thinking, Nixon is attempting to establish that he is on their side. He understands their concerns and wants to make sure he answers any questions they might have. This is meant to show his honesty; even if he has not directly heard these questions, he wants to come clean once and for all. To do so, he is "making history" by being fully transparent with his finances, a move that puts him at odds with the rest of secretive (according to him) Washington, D.C., including his critics.


It was not a secret fund. As a matter of fact, when I was on Meet the Press—some of you may have seen it last Sunday—Peter Edson came up to me after the program, and he said, "Dick, what about this fund we hear about?" And I said, "Well, there is no secret about it. Go out and see Dana Smith who was the administrator of the fund ...."

Richard Nixon

Underlying the scandal regarding "The Fund" was the idea that it was secret and used for personal expenses. Here Nixon undercuts the first assumption by making clear that he had talked about the fund in public before, and that at the time he was willing to provide a contact so that any other questions about the fund could be answered. This means that while the use of the fund was not cleared up then, the idea that it was a secret was untrue. Nixon likely intended for this fact to cast doubt on the credibility of the other criticisms and questions regarding how the fund was used.


I want to make this particularly clear, that no contributor to this fund, no contributor to any of my campaigns, has ever received any consideration that he would not have received as an ordinary constituent.

Richard Nixon

Among the questions raised by Nixon's critics was the worry that if someone donated money to this fund, they might be able to buy his support on different issues. Here Nixon directly addresses that concern by stating unequivocally that his consideration could not be bought and that the fund was in no way a back channel through which those with money could influence his policy stances.


Let me say, incidentally, that my opponent, my opposite number for the vice presidency on the Democratic ticket, does have his wife on the payroll and has had her on his payroll for the past 10 years. Now let me just say this—that is his business, and I am not critical of him for doing that. You will have to pass judgment on that particular point, but I have never done that.

Richard Nixon

Here Nixon directs an accusation against his opponent for the vice presidency to do two things. First by suggesting that his opponent's wife is being paid under questionable circumstances, he is trying to establish that it is his opponent who is untrustworthy. While Nixon is being forthcoming and transparent, he is here suggesting that his opponent is not. Then by saying that he himself is not judging his opponent, he is distancing himself from being a critic; he is only pointing out a fact rather than making a moral statement about it. Instead he allows the audience to decide if there might be something untoward going on with his opponent's finances.


And to answer those questions let me say this: not a cent of the 18,000 dollars or any other money of that type ever went to me for my personal use. Every penny of it was used to pay for political expenses that I did not think should be charged to the taxpayers of the United States.

Richard Nixon

As much as Nixon undermines allegations that the fund itself was secret, here he states clearly and authoritatively that none of the money was used for personal expenses. This was a fundamental part of the concerns related to the fund, which was created from campaign donations and therefore should not have been spent on personal costs. Nixon also makes clear that his concern is the taxpayers and making sure that costs are not passed down to them, which by association implies that his critics are unconcerned with taxpayer money because they think the political expenses the fund was used for should have been paid for with government funds.


We did get something, a gift, after the election .... You know what it was? It was a little cocker spaniel dog ... black and white, spotted, and our little girl Tricia, the six year old, named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, loved the dog, and I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're going to keep it.

Richard Nixon

Interestingly this is the only time in the speech when Nixon refers to their dog Checkers, the name by which the speech became known. This mention of Checkers is meant to humanize Nixon further; although he did get a gift from a potential voter, it was not money. It was a dog for his child, a fact that Nixon presents as a cute joke about allegations that he might be receiving and keeping monetary gifts from contributors.


Well, then the question arises, you say, "Well, how do you pay for these and how can you do it legally?" And there are several ways, that it can be done, incidentally, and it is done legally in the United States Senate and in the Congress. The first way is to be a rich man. So I couldn't use that.

Richard Nixon

One of the core messages of Nixon's speech is that he is like the audience rather than the political elite. Here he makes that explicitly clear by saying that, although one of the best ways to pay for the costs of running for office is to be rich, he is not. He's like the viewer—an average American who has to consider his budget and find ways to make ends meet, rather than relying on a fortune to do it for him.


I realized that there are still some who may say, and rightly so—and let me say that I recognize that some will continue to smear regardless of what the truth may be—but that there has been understandably, some honest misunderstanding on this matter.

Richard Nixon

In this passage Nixon is giving the viewer a choice. He says that for those who are still unsure about the fund, there are two ways of approaching it. The first is to recognize that what took place was a misunderstanding, and that while it may in fact seem that something wrong was done and that any belief that something unethical had taken place is understandable, it was actually just a misunderstanding. The other is to remain doggedly convinced that Nixon lied and misused funds, which he sets up as fundamentally untrue by saying these critics will "smear" regardless of the "truth."


I should say this, that Pat doesn't have a mink coat. But she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat, and I always tell her she would look good in anything.

Richard Nixon

Again here Nixon is making clear that he is not an elite. His wife, rather than having a high-end coat, has what he calls a "Republican" coat, which further suggests that Democrats are elitist while Republicans are like average Americans. This is another way for him to make clear that he and his family are not wealthy, but they are good, everyday Americans who do not need the trappings of wealth he supposedly used campaign funds to buy.


I believe that it's fine that a man like Governor Stevenson, who inherited a fortune from his father, can run for president. But I also feel that it is essential in this country of ours that a man of modest means can also run for president.

Richard Nixon

Nixon has already established that he himself is not a rich elite, but here he ties in the high cost of running for office with the future of the country as a whole. By suggesting that "a man of modest means" must also be able to run for president, he is at once making the case for his own reliance on campaign funds and appealing to the viewer by suggesting that they, too, should have the same right as others to run for office. This is another attempt to align Nixon and his interests with the audience.


Well, that's about it. That's what we have. And that's what we owe. It isn't very much. But Pat and I have the satisfaction that every dime that we have got is honestly ours.

Richard Nixon

Often in a political speech what is not said is as important as what is said. Here Nixon employs a common staple of this particular speech by pointing out that he and his family made "every dime" "honestly," which insinuates that his opponents and critics might not have.


I would suggest that under the circumstances both Mr. Sparkman and Mr. Stevenson should come before the American people, as I have, and make a complete financial statement as to their financial history, and if they don't, it will be an admission that they have something to hide.

Richard Nixon

Earlier in the speech Nixon suggested that he was making history by being radically transparent about his finances. Here he calls on his and Eisenhower's opponents to do the same. It is important to note that unlike Nixon, they were not accused of wrongdoing. But Nixon suggests that if they are not willing to outline their entire financial situation, then they must have something to hide. This shifts attention away from him and onto them, and it shifts him from accused to accuser if they choose not to do so.


I say that a man who, like Mr. Stevenson, has pooh-poohed and ridiculed the communist threat in the United States—he has accused us, that they have attempted to expose the communists, of looking for communists in the Bureau of Fisheries and Wildlife. I say that a man who says that isn't qualified to be president of the United States.

Richard Nixon

For most of the speech Nixon is focused on the allegations against him, but here he takes a direct shot at Eisenhower's opponent for the presidency. Nixon links the criticism of his fund with the dismissal of the communist threat by referencing them closely and suggesting that Stevenson's judgment on one could show something about his judgment on the other. Nixon is suggesting that Stevenson does not take communism seriously, and by association, his views on Nixon's spending are also likely flawed and possibly un-American, which in turn disqualifies him from serving as president.


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.

Richard Nixon

After laying out his financials and making his case, Nixon appeals directly to the public to support him by asking them to write into the RNC and tell them if he should be allowed to run for the vice presidency. Although he poses this as a choice—whether or not he should be on the ticket—it is clear that he intends for people to flood the RNC with support for him. He ends his speech by making clear that he is reasonable and respects the will of the people, a note that underscores his continuous focus on the ways in which he is just like the average American rather than part of the power-hungry elite.

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