Checkers Speech, 1952

Presidential campaigns can be intense, which is why I think it’s important to counterbalance politics with puppies. Fortunately, Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Richard Nixon agree. On this day in 1944 and 1952, the two presidents addressed the nation and discussed their dogs (among other things).

FDR driving Fala around. No big deal.

 

First, in 1944, FDR gave a campaign speech in which he humorously described Republican attacks against him:

These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family doesn’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent them. You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers in Congress and out had concocted a story that I’d left him behind on an Aleutian island and had sent a destroyer back to find him — at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three, or eight or twenty million dollars — his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself … But I think I have a right to resent, to object, to libelous statements about my dog!

Fala listening to FDR defend his honor.

Eight years later, Nixon’s campaign for vice president on the Republican ticket was in shambles because of allegations that he used an $18,000 campaign contribution for personal expenses. Nixon addressed these claims on September 23, 1952 in a televised speech to the nation. In this speech, he channeled FDR and mentioned his family’s dog, Checkers:

One other thing I should probably tell you, because if I don’t they will probably be saying this about me, too. We did get something, a gift, after the election.

A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention that our two youngsters would like to have a dog, and, believe it or not, the day we left before this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore, saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was?

It was a little cocker spaniel dog, in a crate that he had sent all the way from Texas, 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 are going to keep it.

Sixty million people tuned into Nixon’s Checkers Speech, breaking the record for the largest television audience at the time, and won him public support, particularly in Middle America. The speech demonstrated how television completely changed American political rhetoric.

FDR infused humor in his speech by mentioning Fala, but Nixon went straight for America’s heartstrings with his Checkers speech which consequently became a turning point in his campaign.

Do presidents’ dogs humanize them?

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