Today is Dogs in Politics Day, which marks the anniversary of the one of the greatest speeches in U.S. political history.
And it’s named after a dog.
On Sept. 23, 1952, Sen. Richard Nixon of California gave a televised and radio-broadcast address to refute charges he used some of an $18,000 campaign fund for personal use. He was on the presidential ticket with Dwight Eisenhower, the former World War II Supreme Allied Commander, and the duo was running against Illinois Democrat Governor Adlai Stevenson.
Nixon was accused of taking campaign funds and diverting them for personal use. As last-minute scandals have a way of changing the tide of a presidential contest, calls came for Ike to dump Nixon from the ticket. Rather than duck for cover, however, Nixon fought back with a televised address. For approximately 30 minutes, Nixon refuted the charges by providing and detailed breakdown of his finances.
But the speech earned its nickname when Nixon mentioned one donated item sent to his family as a personal gift, and he had no intention of returning it:
“A man down in Texas heard Pat [Nixon’s wife] on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog. And, believe it or not, the day before we left on 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’d 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, 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.”
The “Checkers” speech had an estimated 60 million viewers and listeners, and the reaction was overwhelmingly favorable toward Nixon. It is also regarded as one of the greatest political speeches in U.S. history, and a milestone in terms of demonstrating the effectiveness of television.
Aided by the “Checkers” speech and the positive response, Nixon remained on the GOP ticket, and was vice president for two terms. Nixon narrowly lost the 1960 presidential election to John Kennedy, but ultimately won the Oval Office in 1968 and was handily re-elected 1972. He resigned from office in 1974 amid the Watergate scandal; he died in 1994.
Checkers died in 1964, and she was buried in Bide-a-Wee Pet Cemetery, located in Long Island, NY.