It all started with some businessmen bankrolling Richard Nixon to become a "salesman against socialization.†? But in this precursor to current campaign finance scandals, Nixon had some explaining to do to keep his place on Dwight Eisenhower's Republican ticket, so he took to the airwaves. The "Checkers†? speech saved and bolstered Nixon's political career and set the tone for the 1952 campaign. 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, 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.
Ohio University professor Mattson (When America Was Great) looks back at Nixon as a whistle-stop political salesman in this panoramic exploration of egghead politics, Hollywood films, television culture, and op-ed press buzz. Nixon rose to prominence investigating alleged communist spy Alger Hiss, and then dominated his 1950 U.S. Senate election with a smear campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas that hinted at her supposed communist leanings ( pink down to her underwear ). But by 1952 the TV age dawned; it was the first year the party conventions were televised in their entirety, ad agencies had become campaign strategists, and to secure the VP spot on Eisenhower s ticket, Nixon had a viewing public to win over. Nixon got the nomination thanks to his under-the-table friendship with Joseph McCarthy; his wife, Pat, whom, Mattson says, he used like a prop; campaign manager Murray Chotiner; and commentator Walter Lippmann. Accused of campaign financing improprieties, he gave his famous Checkers speech on primetime TV with its memorable line about Pat wearing a respectable Republican cloth coat ; it was a smash hit, garnering the largest TV audience at that time and solidifying the public support Nixon needed. Mattson s portrait of a crusading, emotional Nixon on the verge of victory colors in all the campaign s background details, including relevant pop culture detours and digressions, from Hedda Hopper and Lucille Ball to the hole in Adlai Stevenson s shoe.