Just Plain Dick: Richard Nixon's Checkers Speech and the "Rocking, Socking" Election of 1952
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It all started with some businessmen bankrolling Richard Nixon to become a "salesman against socialization." But in this precursor to current campaign finance scandals, Nixon had some explaining to do to keep his place on Eisenhower's Republican ticket, so he took to the airwavess. In making his speech, Nixon left behind lines about a "Republican cloth coat" and a black and white cocker spaniel named "Checkers." The speech saved and bolstered Nixon's political career and set the tone for the 1952 campaign.
Just Plain Dick is political history and more. It's the story of a young man nearing a nervous breakdown and staging a political comeback. While the narrative focuses tightly, almost cinematically, on the 1952 election cycle-from the spring primary season to the summer conventions, and then to the allegations against Nixon through to the speech in September and finally the election in November-Mattson also provides a broad-stroke depiction of American politics and culture during the Cold War.
With publication scheduled during the 2012 election season, readers will see Nixon's contribution to current campaign styles. Here is a story of phony populism, a hatred of elites (tagged "eggheads" back then), and emotionally charged appeals erasing a rational assessment of a politician's qualifications. An entertaining and suspenseful read, Just Plain Dick is ideal election context for political junkies and those fascinated with 1950s America.
spy.25 After disentangling himself from the Communist underworld in 1938, an act that required sleeping with a gun on his nightstand and a chronic fear that he was being followed on city streets, Chambers confessed his sins to Adolf Berle, the assistant secretary of state and an intelligence liaison to FDR. He also settled down in a good job at Time magazine. Here he wrote pieces about literature and honed his renewed conservative worldview in a friendship with Time’s publisher and media mogul,
he wanted to be more Fulton Sheen than Milton Berle.22 Three minutes before the speech, Nixon went wobbly. He turned to Pat and said, “I just don’t think I can go through with this one.” Once again, she buttressed him: “Of course you can.” There was “confidence” in her voice, Nixon remembered. He prayed for guidance, bolstering himself further. Pat sat ramrod straight in the chair, looking somewhat unnerved and uncomfortable. He sat down at the desk in the GI den set and imagined a sea of faces
U.S. Policies.”48 McCarthy had made his stance, and Eisenhower’s team made clear it was his own. Still, Joe’s attacks seemed awfully close to Richard Nixon’s throughout the course of October, a time when the liberal op-ed writer Marquis Childs pointed to a “final blitz on communism … by virtually every Republican candidate” running for office. As the vice-presidential candidate’s aggressiveness dial was turned up a few notches, his rhetoric about Stevenson kept getting harsher, zeroing in on his
extent that authenticity itself became staged. When Life reported on Nixon weeping in Wheeling, West Virginia, the night after the speech, the magazine admitted that “Hollywood might have hesitated to accept” Nixon’s recent story as a “script.” Where did reality—authentic tears—and stage performance—the scripted image—diverge now? That was becoming harder to discern. Nixon had the advantage that television was new to Americans, some of its shows (including his) still performed live. Americans
Times, October 13, 1952, 19. 32. Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1952), 175; Carol George, God’s Salesman: Norman Vincent Peale and the Power of Positive Thinking (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 62, 94, 199. All biographical details about Peale come from George’s fine book. 33. Kim Phillips Fein, Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan (New York: Norton, 2009), 72–74; Faith and Freedom,