One day in 1974, as spring began to give way to summer, Frank Gannon — wordsmith and White House Fellow — took a walk in Washington, largely to get away from the stress induced by the Nixon White House’s ever-increasing Watergate milieu. He found his way to an old theater, one that happened to be featuring a triple billing of anti-Nixon films. He felt uncomfortable — even somewhat guilty — for being there, but for whatever reason even this was a welcome break from what was happening a few blocks away. He looked around and, though the lights were out, sensed the crowd’s unmistakable derision every time Richard Nixon’s familiar image appeared on the screen.
Then something curious happened.
The final feature of the odd cinematic trilogy was the simple replaying of a speech Mr. Nixon had given more than two decades earlier on September 23, 1952, at another embattled moment in his career. The grainy video was designed to be the program’s pièce de résistance. But as a much younger Richard Nixon delivered his remarks on the screen that day, it was the audience that Gannon noticed. For whatever reason, the sarcastic hisses had stopped as Nixon spoke of finances and family and a dog named Checkers. It was almost as if these decidedly anti-Nixon partisans were suddenly fascinated.
They were. Many still are.
He was 39-years old and on the verge of national leadership — the junior United States Senator from California and the Republican nominee for Vice President. He was living the American dream and fulfilling many of his own. And along the way, he carried the hopes of a new generation of Americans, those who had emerged from the darkness of global conflict with renewed resolve to embrace life and ensure that such a catastrophe never happened again.
In fact, this rising political star whose magnitude had increased so dramatically in six short years had already experienced the clash of personalities and ideologies that was to define his generation. Richard Milhous Nixon would be a transcendent political figure in America for quite some time. His name would appear on five national ballots, a feat equaled only by Franklin Delano Roosevelt: two times for Vice-President and three for President. And like FDR, he would lose only once, and that barely to another young politician, this one from Massachusetts, who was making his own history in 1952.