Research

September 27, 2013 at 10:18 am

Mattson Book on Nixon: ‘Just Plain Dick’

By Corinne Colbert 

In his famous “Checkers” speech, Richard Nixon—then a senator from California and Dwight Eisenhower’s troubled running mate in the 1952 presidential election—downplayed his connection to a cabal of extremely wealthy donors. He portrayed himself as a middle-class guy whose wife wore “a respectable Republican cloth coat” and whose primary gift from his supporters was a cocker spaniel puppy named Checkers.

Nixon bookAlthough the speech is remembered today as a maudlin appeal to popular sensibilities, Nixon’s gambit worked spectacularly well at the time. The largest television viewing audience to date responded with a torrent of letters and telegrams to the GOP urging the party to keep Nixon on the presidential ticket.

The “Checkers” speech also had a lasting political impact, argues historian Dr. Kevin Mattson,  in his new book Just Plain Dick (Bloomsbury USA).

Mattson, Connor Study Professor of Contemporary History in the College of Arts & Sciences, says it set the stage for decades of conservative rhetoric critical of elites, even though conservative candidates often come from or are largely backed by the wealthy and well-connected.

Read the rest of Colbert’s story.

According to the Amazon review:

Just Plain Dick is political history and more. It’s the story of a young man nearing a nervous breakdown and staging a political comeback. While the narrative focuses tightly, almost cinematically, on the 1952 election cycle-from the spring primary season to the summer conventions, and then to the allegations against Nixon through to the speech in September and finally the election in November-Mattson also provides a broad-stroke depiction of American politics and culture during the Cold War.

With publication scheduled during the 2012 election season, readers will see Nixon’s contribution to current campaign styles. Here is a story of phony populism, a hatred of elites (tagged “eggheads” back then), and emotionally charged appeals erasing a rational assessment of a politician’s qualifications. An entertaining and suspenseful read, Just Plain Dick is ideal election context for political junkies and those fascinated with 1950s America.

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