Just Plain Dick

Just Plain Dick

Richard Nixon's Checkers Speech and the "Rocking, Socking" Election of 1952

By Kevin Mattson

Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, Hardcover, 9781608198122, 260pp.

Publication Date: September 18, 2012


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 Eisenhower's Republican ticket, so he took to the airwavess. In making his speech, Nixon left behind lines about a "Republican cloth coat" and a black and white cocker spaniel named "Checkers." The 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, and 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.

With publication scheduled during the 2012 election season, readers will see Nixon's contribution to current campaign styles. Here is a story of phony populism, a hatred of elites (tagged "eggheads" back then), and emotionally charged appeals erasing a rational assessment of a politician's qualifications. An entertaining and suspenseful read, Just Plain Dick is ideal election context for political junkies and those fascinated with 1950s America.

About the Author
Kevin Mattson is Associate Professor of American History at Ohio University. His previous book, Creating a Democratic Public: The Struggle for Urban Participatory Democracy During the Progressive Era (1998), is also available from Penn State Press.

Praise For Just Plain Dick

“Mattson’s excellent book is a timely companion to the current election season.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“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.” —Publishers Weekly

“Mattson’s book will appeal to historians, politicians, politics buffs, and those interested in the impact of television on the electorate.” —Library Journal

“Mattson, the author of six fine books on politics and intellectual history, contends that the speech transformed not only the 1952 election but also American political culture... Eisenhower and Nixon’s 1952 campaign was an important contributor to unfortunate development[s for which] we are still paying the price... today.” —Boston Globe