Last Thursday I recalled how Richard Nixon...


June 28, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

IN A COLUMN last Thursday I recalled how Richard Nixon made points with voters when he was running for vice president in 1952 by saying his wife Pat didn't wear a mink coat.

He said that in his famous "Checkers speech." Checkers was the family cocker spaniel. It was a gift from a Texan (sent by train to Baltimore, where the Nixons picked him up). Nixon's speech was a defense against charges that as a senator he was on the take from a group of wealthy men. He said he would not return the dog, beloved by his two daughters.

The speech was corny and misleading, and it generated great popular support -- so much that presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower decided against accepting aides' advice to dump Nixon.

You old timers and trivia buffs knew all that. But you may not know this:

In 1961, after losing the presidential race, Nixon wrote his memoirs. In recalling the Checkers speech, he said that just before he went on the air he asked Ike if he was going to keep him on if the speech went well. Ike equivocated. So, Nixon wrote (in "Six Crises"), he said, "General, I just want you to know that I don't want you to give any consideration to my personal feelings. I know how difficult this problem is for you. But there comes a TC time in matters like this when you've either got to fish or cut bait."

Untrue. Nixon didn't say that. What he said, he admitted in his second memoirs (1978's "RN"), was this: "General, I just just want you to know . . . there comes a time in matters like this when you've either got to ---- or get off the pot."

Nixon was squeamish about swearing in public. One of his worst moments came in the third of the Nixon-John F. Kennedy debates in the 1960 presidential election.

Ex-President Harry S. Truman had been quoted as saying that Texans who voted Republican could "go to hell." The debate moderator asked the candidates about this.

Nixon said, "When a man's president of the United States, or a former president, he has an obligation not to lose his temper in public. I see [at campaign rallies] tremendous numbers of children, mothers holding up their babies so they can see a man who might be president. It makes you realize that whoever is president is going to be a man that all the children of America will look up to, or look down on. And I can only say that I'm very proud that President Eisenhower restored dignity and decency and, frankly, good language to the conduct of the presidency of the United States."

Senator Kennedy's comment was, "Perhaps Mrs. Truman can [get HST to change his way of speaking], but I don't think I can."

With that, JFK sewed up the pro-expletives bloc, emboldened it and accelerated its growth, with the results obvious everywhere today, from bumper sticker to greeting cards to T-shirts to ladies' bridge games and tennis matches. . . .

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