Authentic Persona in Checkers Speech by Richard Nixon Essay Example
Nixon’s “Checkers” speech, originally given to address national concerns about $18,000 in donated campaign funding that Nixon received, is largely aimed at crafting a particular persona. In order to find his way back into the public favor, Nixon designs a persona characterized by integrity, rectitude, and comparative responsibility. He does this by thoroughly demonstrating his commitment to honesty, steadfastly adhering to his moral values, and drawing a contrast between his authentic self and his inauthentic political counterparts. In these ways, Nixon attempts to take control of his audience’s perception of his character by fostering a persona of authenticity.
Nixon begins crafting this authentic persona by demonstrating his unfaltering commitment to honesty. In the very first sentence of his speech, Nixon makes it clear that he is addressing the questioning of his “honesty” and “integrity” by the American people, and sets out to clear his name of any suspicions to the contrary (151). When addressing the $18,000 fund that necessitated this public address in the first place, Nixon reads an “independent audit” of this fund to his audience, noting that he is “not afraid of having independent people go in and check the facts” (153). Nixon further subjects his audience to a detailed list of his “complete financial history,” which includes his salary, mortgages, life insurance policies, and more very personal information (153). With all of this detailed information, some of which is given by neutral investigators, Nixon’s honesty is certainly difficult to challenge. This is an important way in which Nixon lays the foundation for his persona. A convincing commitment to honesty is critical in molding an authentic persona, Jones argues, as authenticity demands that one “consistently upholds and puts into practice one’s values and commitments” (492). Therefore, by adequately showing his audience that he is truly dedicated to upholding his commitment to honesty, Nixon can thus support an authentic persona. Presenting his audience with an abundance of evidence of his upholding this value is an effective way to do this.
Adherence to moral values
Nixon continues to foster an authentic persona by demonstrating his strong adherence to moral values. When discussing the nature of the fund in question, Nixon denies that any of the money was used immorally and declares that he is “proud” that none of the contributors to his fund have ever asked him to spend his vote in any way other than that which his “own conscience would dictate” (153). This is important because, as Jones argues, an authentic person “is not ashamed of [their] values and feels no need to misrepresent them” (490). By expressing his pride in his ability to act according to his own moral compass, Nixon demonstrates this important quality of authenticity. Furthermore, Nixon’s explanation of the fund’s purpose is based in his own moral values, as he notes that the only reason he sought and accepted this gift money is because he “felt” that taxpayers should be not be financing “items which are...primarily political business” (152).
According to this reasoning, Nixon’s actions are directed by his moral compass. As Nixon asserts, he did not accept this gift money for personal reasons, but because he did not feel that taxpayers should be required to finance his Vice Presidential campaign. Therefore, the fund in question only exists to ease the burden on the good taxpayers of America, and is surely morally justified. In this way, Nixon once again demonstrates his unfaltering commitment to his moral values, thereby further supporting his authentic persona.
In order to solidify this persona in the eyes of his audience, Nixon creates a contrast between himself, who can be understood as authentic, and his opponents, who should be understood as inauthentic. When discussing his opponents, Mr. Sparkman (152) and Mr. Stevenson (155), Nixon highlights their dishonesty by exposing their wrongdoings. Nixon exposes Mr. Sparkman for having his wife on the Senate payroll, asserting that “it just didn’t feel right” for him to put his own wife, Pat, on the Senate payroll (152). Interestingly, Nixon never explicitly denounces Mr. Sparkman for doing this, he only asserts that his own actions were morally right. If Nixon did the right thing and Mr. Sparkman did the opposite, it must follow that Mr. Sparkman did the wrong thing. Similarly, when discussing the suspicious funds that Mr. Stevenson accepted, which Nixon argues went “right into [his] pockets,” he states that he does not “condemn” Mr. Stevenson for his actions (155). Instead of offering judgement, Nixon again returns attention to himself and suggests that both men “come before the American people as I have,” as anything less would be “an admission that they have something to hide” (155).
By exposing his opponents’ wrongdoings while avoiding passing explicit judgement, Nixon creates a stark contrast between virtuous and corrupt, authentic and inauthentic. It is exactly this contrast that gives Nixon his platform to speak; Nixon’s comparative honesty and responsibility give him a “mark of distinction” from his corrupt counterparts that “warrants notice” and enables him to advocate for his fellow Americans (Brooks 525). Because Nixon is not corrupt like his opponents, he must be the only politician that can truly and faithfully represent them. This contributes to Nixon’s authentic persona, as a person of authenticity can be trusted to uphold their values “even when under pressure to abandon them” (Jones 491). Therefore, this contrast between the authentic self and the inauthentic others allows Nixon to demonstrate his worth as a government official. Thus, Nixon becomes a comparatively trustworthy politician.
Nixon’s “Checkers” speech was so successful because he was able to effectively construct an authentic persona. By consistently being honest and upholding his personal moral values, unlike his political counterparts, Nixon is able to lay the foundation for this persona. Nixon’s acquisition of an independent audit of the fund in question, as well as his detailed account of his personal financial history, are critical in corroborating his honesty. Similarly, by grounding his justification for this fund in his self-imposed duty to uphold his own moral values, Nixon further strengthens this persona. Finally, Nixon’s contrast between himself and other corrupt politicians gives his audience an example of true corruption and thus solidifies his authentic persona. In these ways, Nixon is able craft a persona worthy of redemption in the eyes of the public.
Brooks, Maegan Parker. “Oppositional Ethos: Fannie Lou Hamer and the Vernacular Persona.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs, vol. 14, no. 3, 2011, pp. 511–548., doi:10.1353/rap.2011.0024.
Jones, Ben. “Authenticity in Political Discourse.” Ethical Theory & Moral Practice, vol. 19, no. 2, Apr. 2016, pp. 489–504., doi:doi:10.1007/s10677-015-9649-6.
Nixon, Richard. “The Checkers Speech.” Great Speeches for Criticism and Analysis, by L Rohler and R Cook, 2nd ed., Alistair Press, 1993, pp. 151–157.