Republicans were on the political attack and the President was angry. At a campaign dinner with the Teamsters union, on this day in 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt struck back. It was one thing for the Republicans to spread “malicious falsehoods” about him and Eleanor, but they had stepped over the line, making libelous statements about Fala, his small, black Scottish terrier.
After addressing weighty labor and war issues, Roosevelt blasted Republican critics for circulating a claim that he had accidentally left Fala behind while visiting the Aleutian Islands earlier that year and had, at a taxpayer cost of $20 million, sent a Navy destroyer to pick up the dog. Although Fala slept at the foot of President’s bed and received a bone every morning with Roosevelt’s breakfast tray, Roosevelt accused his critics of attempting to tarnish a defenseless dog’s reputation just to distract Americans from more pressing issues facing the country.
Did Richard Nixon, eight years later to the day, take a page out of the Roosevelt playbook to defend his own honor when critics accused him of accepting improper gifts and making funny with campaign funds? The story broke two months after Nixon’s selection as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s running mate, threatening Nixon’s place on the ticket. Nixon interrupted a whistle-stop tour of the West Coast to fly to Los Angeles for a television and radio broadcast to the nation in which he vowed he would not return one gift: a black-and-white dog who had been named Checkers by his children. But unlike Roosevelt, who took Fala to meetings with heads of state such as Winston Churchill, there is no evidence that Nixon even touched Checkers, let alone fed him.
It’s an interesting slant on our political process that both speeches were successful.