In the Fall of 1952, Richard Nixon, then a U.S. Senator from California, had just been named to the Republican presidential ticket as Dwight Eisenhower's running mate, when a possible scandal seemed to be enveloping him. A reporter got wind of a secret fund that had been set-up to help defray some of Nixon's political expenses for travel, campaign materials, postage and the like. Many lawmakers had access to similar funds gathered from rich supporters, and Nixon's was actually more modest that some, but Ike was running on a campaign promise that his future administration would be purer than Caesar's wife. Ike gave serious consideration to dumping Nixon from the ticket as McGovern did to Tom Eagleton twenty years later. Instead, the decision was made for the Republican campaign to buy a half-hour of national air time on network TV for Nixon to address the issue of the fund.
You can see the Checkers speech in the two clips below. It's kind of fun to watch. It reminds you of Ozzie and Harriet (Too young for that too? Look it up.), and you can see how much political speech-making has evolved, and how incredibly stiff Nixon was. It's also interesting to hear how he described the fact that he had not put his wife, Pat, on his staff payroll, as many other Senators did, even though "she is an excellent stenographer." What a simple time it was in terms of political corruption!
The key part of it is that Nixon worked very hard to successfully convince the American people that he didn't have some great wealth stashed away from the contributions to the fund by his wealthy friends in California. He essentially read his personal financial statement aloud on national TV, and concluded the description of his wealth with the following:
So in 1952, Republican candidates took pains to demonstrate they were living simple, frugal "respectable Republican cloth coat" existences.
Fast forward to 2011.
Callista Gingrich, a Wisconsin native
Newt Gingrich is in the cross-hairs since Politico discovered a week ago that he had been carrying a balance of between $250,000 and $500,000 on a revolving credit account with Tiffany's Jewelers between 2005 and 2006. The New York Times reported the story on its front page today.
Newt was never going to do well in Iowa, but may still do better than Tim Pawlenty, who kicked off his campaign there Monday by attacking Ethanol subsidies. (Bob Schieffer's Face the Nation interview of Newt regarding his spending on jewelry follows the Nixon clips.)
To the long list of rich-guy foibles that turned into defining campaign moments — John Edwards’s $400 haircut, John Kerry’s kite-surfing, John McCain’s inability to remember how many homes he owns — let us now add Newt Gingrich’s $500,000 revolving line of credit at the luxury jeweler Tiffany & Company.
It has been a week since Politico broke the news that while working for the House Agriculture Committee, Mr. Gingrich’s wife, Callista, filed forms for 2005 and 2006 disclosing her husband’s “revolving charge” of $250,001 to $500,000 with Tiffany. Mr. Gingrich, insisting his jewelry buying habits are his own business, has declined to say what he bought.
As House speaker, Mr. Gingrich preached the virtues of fiscal conservatism; now he is struggling to explain how spending large sums on jewelry fits in with that philosophy. And while a spokesman for Tiffany confirmed Tuesday that Mr. Gingrich had paid the debt in full, with no interest, parrying questions about a six-figure jewelry bill is hardly what his campaign needs at a time when many Americans are out of work or have lost their homes.
The episode also reinforced what campaign strategists like to call “negatives” — in Mr. Gingrich’s case, questions about his personal life, which includes two divorces and a six-year secret affair with Mrs. Gingrich, then Callista Bisek, when she was a House aide and he was speaker.
The Gingrich campaign had hoped that, after 11 years of marriage, he could present himself as a stable family man. Now Mr. Gingrich is the butt of yet another round of late-night television infidelity jokes. “Five hundred thousand at Tiffany’s?” the comedian Stephen Colbert asked. “There’s a simple explanation. The guy clearly buys his engagement rings in bulk.”
In Iowa, where Mr. Gingrich drew big crowds last week, The Iowa Republican, a political Web site, ran a scathing commentary titled “How a Fiscal Conservative Spends $500K at Tiffany’s.” The site’s editor, Craig Robinson, a former political director for the state Republican Party, said the essay was submitted by a political activist who was “completely turned off” by the expenditures.
“It’s bizarre; I don’t think he’s ever going to live it down,” Mr. Robinson said. “There aren’t many $500,000 homes in Iowa, so we can’t even fathom $500,000 in credit card debt, let alone to a high-end jewelry store.”
And finally, we have Donald Trump being questioned about his wealth before he bowed out of even entering the race. Donald was interviewed by Megan Alexander of Inside Edition:
"Should a presidential candidate be decided on their wallet size?" Alexander asked him.
"No not exclusively. All it is is an indicator. I have had tremendous success and have done a great job with business and as a company. Frankly, if I run, I will have to disclose financials and when I disclose my financials I can tell you people are going to be very, very impressed. I have done a good job," said Trump.Now there is a guy that John Q. Citizen can totally relate to.
Checkers Speech by Richard Nixon
Gingrich interview by Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation