Sixty years ago, Richard Nixon was fighting for his political survival. The press accused of him of misusing a fund – which was created by his supporters to reimburse him for expenses – for personal benefit. In what would later become one of his favorite phrases, RN decided to “seize the moment” and combat the charges by taking his case directly to the American people. In an unprecedented release of personal finances, he diligently outlined his family’s personal expenses in great detail, denying any improprieties but refusing to give up one gift: his girls’ little Cocker Spaniel Checkers, which gave the speech its now-legendary moniker.At The Atlantic, Lee Huebner explains why leading communication scholars ranked it among the top speeches of the century.
The "Checkers" speech wins this high rank for one stand-out reason: It marked the beginning of the television age in American politics. It also salvaged Nixon's career, plucking a last-second success from the jaws of abject humiliation, and profoundly shaped Nixon's personal and professional outlook, convincing him that television was a way to do an end-run around the press and the political "establishment."
Perhaps most interestingly, the address foreshadowed the emergence of a new conservative populism in America, emphasizing appeals to social and cultural "identity" rather than economic interests. The trend would ultimately end the domination of the New Deal Democratic coalition and create a base for Reagan Republicanism and its extended aftermath.Here is a complete video of the speech: