Why: It is the first great demonstration in America of the use and power of television to shape politics. As with Nixon himself, the speech was brilliant, bare knuckles and mawkish, all at once. By going over the heads of the press in directly appealling to the American people, this speech saved Nixon’s political career, delivered a hard (and some would say low) blow back on his political opponents (especially Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican nominee for the presidency, whom Nixon was running with in 1952), and seriously embarrassed his wife.
Possible subtopics: • Richard Nixon’s early political career • Nixon’s relationship with Eisenhower • American political parties • Presidential elections and campaigning • Campaign finance • American media • Television and American society • Public response to the speech • Effects of the crisis on Richard and Pat Nixon • Canines Research Question: What effects did the “Checkers” speech have on Richard Nixon’s career and on American presidential campaigning and politics in general?
Working Thesis Statement: Richard Nixon’s desperate, hastily organized “Checkers” speech not only saved his political career—while souring the relationship between himself and Dwight Eisenhower—it fundamentally altered the nature of political campaigning in the United States by its enormously successful, direct appeal to the American people through the new medium of television. (Yeah, I don’t recommend your thesis statement be this long; but this one reflects all the main points I would want to argue in a paper on this topic. I would probably shorten it down in the later stages of the writing process. ).
Disciplines: (I have considered six here; you only need to factor three into your paper. ) Anthropology: Anthropology studies culture (I think). Although this topic involves a bunch of white men, there were differences within this culture. Nixon was a self-made man, who always had to work hard (and sometimes play dirty) for everything he got. He had a curious relationship with the “establishment” of the Republican party. While he always manipulated them brilliantly, he never lost the belief that they looked down on him as a poor boy from rural California and that they would drop him as soon as they could.
The crisis leading up to the “Checkers” speech was a prime example of this. Economics: The main focus here would be on campaign financing and expenditures, as the “Checkers” speech resulted from allegations that Nixon had a secret, political “slush fund”. Geography: This does not play a big role in this topic, except that Nixon was a rural westerner, while the party “establishment” was largely made up of wealthy, urban easterners. History: With this discipline, you would consider the context of Richard Nixon’s career, especially the early years.
He was one of the most influential persons—for better and for worse—in participating in and shaping the history of the United States in the latter half of the twentieth century. Your paper MUST include this discipline. Political Science: Quite obviously, this is the most relevant discipline for this topic. The main focus here would be on fundamental changes to the nature of election campaigning. Sociology: With this discipline, you would focus on the effects of the new medium of television on American society, as demonstrated by the “Checkers” speech.
Main Points: Section One: This would contain the context for the topic: Nixon’s early political career (especially his strident anticommunism and his quickly gained reputation for playing dirty in political campaigns) and the reasons why Eisenhower chose such a relatively young man to be his running mate in the 1952 presidential election. Section Two: This would examine the reasons why Nixon had to give the speech, how it was quickly organized to be delivered on live television, and an analysis of its overall content and techniques of delivery.
Section Three: This section would analyze both the personal and the overall effects of the speech: how the public reacted to it (massively in favour of Nixon), how it saved Nixon’s political career, while seriously embarrassing his wife, and how it forced Eisenhower to keep Nixon on the ticket, while creating a permanent atmosphere of distrust between the two men; on the overall side: an analysis of this early demonstration of the power of television to alter the political landscape in American politics.
(Note: I have deliberately structured the main points so that the disciplines will be integrated within them as subsets, but not as the principal, organizing element of each one. As I’ve told you before, they will look very poorly at your work in university if you hand in an essay that is made up of analysis of distinctly separated disciplines. )