Study Guide

Checkers Speech Quotes

By Richard Nixon

  • Humility

    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. (128-129)

    What on earth is Republican about a cloth coat? Shmoop really wants to know.

    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. (123-127)

    A classic appeal, and one that probably hit close to home for much of America. Remember, we're at the start of the Cold War: not earning your keep with good honest work was for lazy Russians standing in bread lines, not the hard-working American people.

    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. (41-44)

    Nixon wasn't rich, but he wasn't nearly as broke as many Americans. He's insinuating that plenty of politicians are rich (wink-wink, nudge-nudge), but he's just struggling to pay his political expenses.

    I went to the south Pacific. I guess I'm entitled to a couple of battle stars. I got a couple of letters of commendation. But I was just there when the bombs were falling. (83-86)

    This is essentially Nixon saying, Aw, shucks, did I mention that I'm a war hero? I can't put it that way because it would make me sound self-important. Subtle, bro, but what does that have to do with a secret fund?

    What did we do with this money? What do we have today to show for it? This will surprise you because it is so little. I suppose as standards generally go of people in public life. (104-107)

    Nixon was no Rockefeller, unlike Stevenson who inherited a fortune from his longstanding political family. And he loved pointing that out. Some of the info he shared was pretty shocking, like only having a few thousand dollars of life insurance for a man with a work-at-home wife and two kids.

  • Transparency

    And to answer those questions let me say this: not a cent of the $18,000 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. (15-16)

    Nixon's saying that not only isn't he rich, but he's virtuous. He wouldn't even dream of burdening the taxpayers.

    Let me say, incidentally, that some of you may say, "Well, that is all right, Senator, that is your explanation, but have you got any proof?" And I would like to tell you this evening that just an hour ago we received an independent audit of this entire fund. (61-62)

    This is Nixon's first line of defense against accusations of impropriety. Maybe he didn't think that the people would believe him, so he got independent corroboration that none of the contributions to the fund could be considered personal income. He mentions that he personally asked for this audit, so how could there be anything to hide?

    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. (68-70)

    This is Nixon's trump card, his ultimate testimony that he's an honest fellow who you can believe and trust. Or at least, he hoped that's what it would be, as there was a decent chance it would fall flat and just make him look like a complete idiot.

    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. (130-131)

    This is the lead in to the famous line about the dog, and it's a smart one. Nixon opens with a joke about how his opponents will do anything to make him look bad, and then goes on to tell the heartwarming story of the only unsolicited contribution he had received—an adorable little puppy for his kids. That story seals the deal, because, puppies.

    And I think you will agree with me—because, folks, remember, a man that's to be President of the United States, a man that is to be Vice President of the United States, must have the confidence of all the people. And that's why I'm doing what I'm doing, and that is why I suggest that Mr. Stevenson and Mr. Sparkman, if they are under attack, that should be what they are doing. (154-155)

    Textbook Nixon move: he flips the accusations of "secret funds" back on to his opponents, and then calls for them to be as transparent as he's been "if" they're under attack.

  • Fear

    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. (153)

    Nixon never says that the Democratic ticket is composed of liars and cheats, but he sure encourages people to think that.

    You say, why do I think it is in danger? And I say look at the record. Seven years of the Truman-Acheson Administration, and what's happened? Six hundred million people lost to Communists. (170-173)

    The unspoken accusation here is that if the Democrats win again, you might as well paint the globe red.

    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. (188-189)

    Finding Communists hiding under ever bed was typical of the Red Scare era, and Stevenson had ridiculed this. There definitely were communists and Soviet spies in the U.S. at the time, but it didn't merit the level of hysteria people like Nixon and Joseph McCarthy were promoting.

    Let me say, incidentally, that my opponent, my opposite number for the Vice Presidency on the Democratic ticket, does have his wife on the pay roll and has had her on his pay roll for the past ten years. Now let me just say this: that is his business, and I am not critical of him for doing that. (46-47)

    If he's not critical about it, why does he bring it up? Also, do you notice that he starts every other sentence with "Let me say…"? This verbal tic gave comedians and impressionists a ton of material to work with. It was gold, Shmoopers, gold.

    You wouldn't trust the man who made the mess to clean it up. That is Truman. And by the same token you can't trust the man who was picked by the man who made the mess to clean it up and that's Stevenson. And so I say, Eisenhower who owes nothing to Truman, nothing to the big city bosses—he is the man who can clean up the mess in Washington. (179-182)

    You can't help looking at statements like these—at anything Nixon said, really—through Watergate-tinted glasses. Nixon went beyond corruption to outright law-breaking.