On the occasion of the 56th anniversary of the Checkers speech, it is appropriate to know that Richard Nixon has been a pioneer of much of what we know as modern American politics. Checkers after all marked the beginning of Richard Nixon’s significant presence onto the political landscape for the next 40 years—and beyond.
As we all know as well, the Checkers speech was the first of its kind in American history. It was a small victory for populism, as popular support decided the career of the young senator from California—rather than the party establishment and the top of the ticket.
Nixon learned an important lesson as a result of the speech. He didn’t need the media to convey his message, but could go straight to the people. The seeds of the Checkers speech can be found later on in his presidency in the Silent Majority speech. Nixon’s distrust of the media also found its true beginnings after the Checkers speech.
In many ways, RN also pioneered the modern vice presidency — transforming the office from John Nance Garner’s definition of ‘a bucket of warm spit’, to arguably the second more powerful man in the world — as personified by the current Vice President.
RN continued to be a pioneer during his presidential campaigns in American politics. As chronicled by Joe McGinnis in “The Selling of the President 1968”, Nixon’s successful run for President marked a new approach to campaigning. Led by advertising executives like HR Haldeman, there was almost a corporate control of message and image. This corporate campaign for the presidency has transformed into the modern era of spin in which we are familiar with today.
Among the obvious achievements of RN was going to the People’s Republic of China. However Nixon also pioneered the first look at universal healthcare in 1971. These issues are still with us today in our daily discourse on the campaign trail.
Unfortunately, RN was also a pioneer in one important respect. The first president of the United States to resign his office. In spite of his critics’ paranoid, RN did this intensity difficult task with grace, respect for the office, and ultimately honor for himself. While it may be debatable whether or not Richard Nixon abused his power, it is not debatable to say that he was the first to be held accountable for it. He is a graphic example that no one is above the law.
Pioneers are not only the first to arrive and blaze a trail. In many respects, pioneers place their indelible stamp as well on the landscape. In American politics, Richard Nixon fits the criteria of an American pioneer.