Tuesday, January 09, 2007

January 9, 1913:

Richard Nixon's Birthday

Light the candles and break out the party hats, today would have been the 94th birthday of Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th president of the United States. He was born in humble circumstances in Yorba Linda, Calif., a fact that can be fully appreciated by visiting the Nixon Presidential Library in that city. The small house in which he was born is now located there, mere steps away from President and Mrs. Nixon's gravesites.

On other days, such as August 9, the subject of Nixon's fall may be appropriate. On his birthday, Nixon ought to be given his due for the master politician that he was. Don't think so? Watch the entirety of the Checkers Speech (1952), which takes about 10 minutes.

Typically only clips from the speech are shown, especially those mentioning the dog Checkers. Certainly that's the most memorable part, but the speech is also interesting for Nixon's listing of his assets and liabilities, the subtext of which is, "I might be a US Senator and Vice Presidential candidate, but I'm a regular guy who doesn't have much and worries about money. And I'm too honest to take anything under the table."

Pat Nixon is watching nearby, and occasionally the camera pans to her. It may be the effect of a kinescope shown on the Internet, but she looks like a slightly animated wax model. Her subtext is "loyal wife and mother." At one point, he mentions that she's Irish, and "the Irish never quit." Just like Richard Nixon: "I'm not a quitter," he asserted about himself, a theme he returned to in August 1974, using almost the same words, but without reference to the Irish.

The speech is here. Note also the pride in his voice when he refers to his part in putting Alger Hiss in jail. I'll wager the pride was genuine.

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