Paschal Donohoe channels Richard Nixon’s ‘Checkers Speech’ to buy himself out of gap in poster spending row
Pascal Donohoe, knowingly or unknowingly, appears to have learned something from the Richard Nixon playbook.
Dail’s statement to the Minister for Public Expenditure has a strange echo of a speech given by ‘Tricky Dicky’ before Watergate became fully infamous.
In the years since it was delivered, Nixon’s “Checkers speech” has entered political folklore as a template for how to rise above enemies by appealing to people’s innate good nature.
In Paschal’s case, if the people already warmly give you an innate good nature, then such an appeal—which casts the speaker as a sensitive, all-too-human being for the public good—is likely to be successful. Chances are high.
Notably, then-US Senator Nixon was also accused of breaking rules relating to the expenses of his political campaign, including campaign materials.
At the time, in 1952, Nixon was a vice-presidential candidate and this jeopardized a career trajectory that would eventually lead him to the White House.
Nixon was benefiting from a fund set up by his supporters to reimburse expenses including travel, Christmas cards, and other personal branding. The press found covert support and a full-scale scandal broke out.
It had to be addressed … and Nixon gambled that the real facts, figures and cumbersome details were of little interest to the public. Instead voters wanted reassurance, and a reinforcement of their faith – especially since he was the running mate for Dwight Eisenhower, the man who won World War II.
Nixon said, “Not a cent…money…has ever gone to me for my personal use.” “Every penny of it was used to pay for political expenses.” Familiar?
It’s called the Checkers speech because it ended with a puppy of that name… and cursing Nixon became the equivalent of attacking the puppy in his arms.
He said: “One more thing maybe I should tell you because if we don’t they’ll probably be saying the same thing about me, we got something – a gift – after the election. A guy in Texas heard Pat [Nixon’s wife] Mention on the radio the fact that two of our young men would like to have a dog.
“And, believe it or not… we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore saying they had a package for us. We went down to pick it up. You know what it was? It was a In the crate was a little cocker spaniel dog that he had shipped all the way from Texas. Black and white spotted. And our little girl — Tricia, six years old — named it Checkers. And you know, kids, like all kids , love dogs and let me just say it right now, that whatever they say about it, we’re gonna keep it.
Thus Nixon was out of the gap. Paschal was never going to go that far, but still put his personal honor at stake, as did Nixon. In an angry Dáil session at the end of Paschal’s speech, he addressed the Sean Comhairle (and at length those who were listening and watching unseen).
“I have served under three Taoiseachs in three successive governments. During that time I hope I have done something different,” said the Fine Gael TD.
He had “done his best to answer each case truthfully and accurately”. What followed was emotional outreach: “It is the greatest privilege to be a member of the Oireachtas, to represent the constituents of Dublin Central, and above all to contribute as a member of the Government of Ireland. To serve.”
He listed his national achievements, including “supporting our country’s workers and employers during a pandemic” and “bringing our national finances to the point of twice the surplus”.
It was not meant to excuse – or ignore – the opposition’s anger in the matter, he said, instead it was “to remind me of the standards I should have applied”.
From the lofty to the ridiculous: “For whom I am accountable, he failed to revise his election expenses up to €140 in 2017, when the use of a corporate van became known to me. For this I have repeatedly apologised.”
A Poxy van fixes Eurofin’s problem when it travels to Europe. giving his full time, yet admitting his failure to “not take the time to determine the full facts” regarding payments made for postings of which he was not aware; and “not being as involved in the details of running my election campaign as I should have been”.
Then delivered a rhetorical ram-ghar, more in sorrow than anger: “While this is all that some in the opposition want to define me, it is not all that I have done while serving the constituents of Dublin Central and our country ”
Note the appeal to everyone and everyone, with repeated use of “our country”. A citizen like any other; Burdened with related issues, as every citizen must feel in the present circumstances.
And now look at his outline: “I take my hard-earned lessons and I will take them with me as I continue to serve the people of Ireland.”
He’s subtly told you that he’s won, that he’s going to continue… That’s what Nixon did: “I intend to keep on fighting. Why do I feel so deeply? Why do I feel that the stigmas, the misunderstandings Regardless, a man needs to come here and reveal his soul like me? Why is it important for me to continue this fight? And I want to tell you why. Because, you see, I love my country. I do