MEISTER LAW OFFICES SHABBAT SURPRISE: Lessons from Nixon’s “Checkers Speech”

40 years ago today, President Richard Nixon announced that he would be resigning effective noon on August 9, 1974. Today’s Shabbat Surprise is not about Watergate, or the system working, or anything else that myriad columns will discuss this coming weekend. Instead, it’s about a triumph of Richard Nixon’s that we can all look to in the darkest moments. In the 1950′s, as Vice President under Dwight Eisenhower, Nixon was rocked by a slush-fund scandal that had even Eisenhower hoping the VP would step down. Instead, at what many believed was the death’s-door of his early political career, Nixon turned disaster into resounding triumph with a nationally broadcast address that came to be known as “The Checkers Speech.” His bravery and determination in the face of incredibly daunting odds can remind us that if legal challenges, or government investigations, or criminal law troubles we’d never expect to experience somehow enter our lives or those of our businesses or companies, we shouldn’t cave under pressure or throw in the towel just others have prematurely condemned us to oblivion.


Here is an excerpt from the speech:

“One other thing I probably should tell you, because if I don’t they’ll probably be saying this about me, too. We did get something, a gift, after the election. A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog. And believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore, saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was? It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate that he’d sent all the way from Texas, black and white, spotted. And our little girl Tricia, the six year old, named it “Checkers.” And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog, and I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep it.”

Brilliant. Whatever your opinion of Nixon, his presidency and the meaning of Watergate, the Checkers Speech worked to perfection. The speech, and Nixon’s being willing to go to great and unexpected lengths to argue his case, are noteworthy in this era of aggressive government investigation of possible corruption or criminality across the economy. Whether in finance, manufacturing, corporate expansion and overseas operations, healthcare or other industries, government investigators and prosecutors are actively working to enforce the nation’s business laws and volumes of regulation. Every day, we read of a company’s coming under investigation, or a hospital’s being sued by a whistleblower, or doctors getting busted for supposed overprescribing. In the face of accusation, many companies and individuals cower out of fear, and make decisions from a state of near-paralysis. News headlines scream guilt; stock prices plummet; people get fired; insurers drop insureds.

The keys to surviving the first moments of a criminal case emergency or a government investigation are to remain calm, stand tall, and get help. Don’t give up on yourself or your business any quicker than Nixon gave up on his family’s black and white spotted dog — or his future.

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