There’s an old saying that if you want a friend in politics, buy a dog.
That’s what Rod Blagojevich, who has no friends left in politics or anywhere, did this Saturday. On the last weekend before Blagojevich finds out how long he’ll spend in prison, he and his family adopted a dog.
Could this be a ploy to melt Judge James Zagel’s heart at Blagojevich’s sentencing hearing? Would the judge throw the book at a man who adopted a puppy, just three weeks before Christmas? Also, did Blagojevich name the dog “Checkers”?
I doubt Blagojevich will actually bring the dog to court, but politicians have used dogs to get themselves out of career-threatening scrapes. One of Blagojevich’s idols, Richard Nixon, did it in 1952, when he almost lost the Republican vice presidential nomination after it was revealed that wealthy Californians had established a fund to pay for his political expenses.
Nixon went on TV to defend himself as a man of modest means who lived a frugal lifestyle. There was one gift for which he would not apologize.
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 6-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.
The nation was moved. Nixon stayed on the ticket, and survived to corrupt the office of the presidency and irredeemably damage the nation’s faith in its elected leaders. The televised address is known to history as “The Checkers Speech,” after the passage about the dog.
The poor-boy made good became part of Nixon’s political identity. In 1960, columnist Murray Kempton accused him of “wandering limply and wetly about the American heartland begging votes on the excuse that he had been too poor to have a pony when he was a boy.” Blagojevich, who talks often about growing up in an apartment as the son of an immigrant steelworker, obviously relates to Nixon.
Blagojevich will have to make his own Checkers Speech to Zagel this week. It’s too late to save his career, but maybe it will get him out of prison while his new dog is still spry enough to chase a tennis ball.