You may have assumed that Checkers Day celebrates the popular board game, but the September 23rd holiday (also known as Dogs in Politics Day) is actually a reference to Richard M. Nixon’s black and white Cocker Spaniel, Checkers. Fifty-nine years ago today, Nixon made the his famous “Checkers Speech” in response to accusations that he had misused campaign funds. During the speech, which turned out to be a political triumph for the Vice Presidential candidate, Nixon indicated that there was one gift he intended to keep — a little dog his children had named Checkers.
Dogs have acted as political companions almost as long as politics has existed. In many cases they become part of a politician’s public image, like Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Scottish Terrier, Fala, who became so popular that he eventually got his own press secretary, and even became an honorary army private for contributing a dollar to the war effort. Thirty-two U.S. Presidents have had dogs, many of which may have unwittingly helped to shape not only their families and personal lives, but also their political careers.
To celebrate Checkers Day, Chris and I watched Nixon’s famous Checkers Speech online. His earnest explanation and desire for vindication made it apparent that preserving his integrity was of the utmost importance to him. But the irony wasn’t entirely lost on me — it would only be a number of years until the Watergate scandal. Still, while watching the speech I was immediately struck by how much politics has changed, awed by the fact that personal integrity and reputation were, at one time, a candidate’s best selling point. Maybe I’m disillusioned with U.S. politics, but it just doesn’t seem that this is the case anymore.
Besides watching the moving speech, we also spent some time today learning about “First Pets”. There are a few great resources online, like the Presidential Pet Museum (a local museum with tons of information about current and old presidential pets), and the official webpage of The White House (which has photo galleries of previous first pets, as well as a gallery dedicated to the current First Dog, Bo Obama). It’s a little odd to see famous political figures at home with their pets, and some skeptical part of me assumes even the sweetest gesture is always staged as a photo opportunity. But, in reality, these political figures were most likely leaning on man’s best friend while they performed the most difficult jobs of their lives, in a profession that has the potential to leave people feeling friendless, vulnerable, and exposed. I know, at least, that when I’m crowned Queen of the World one day, I’ll want my pups by my side. I don’t think I’ll be able to rule without their love and support.
Tomorrow we’ll move our focus from pets to punctuation — it’s National Punctuation Day!