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280 Topics: American Presidents: Richard Nixon; off-the-grid; on-the-spot

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 280.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 280. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at eslpod.com. Download this episode’s Learning Guide, an 8- to 10-page guide we provide for all of our current episodes that gives you some additional help in improving your English.

On this Café, we’re going to continue our series on American presidents, focusing on former U.S. President Richard Nixon. And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

This Café is going to include a continuation of our series on American presidents. Today we’re going to talk about Richard Nixon, one of the most controversial presidents in modern American history, at least here in the United States. Normally we discuss, or cover two topics on each English Café, but today we are going to have just one topic: Richard Nixon. That’s because there’s a lot to talk about with this particular 20th century president.

Richard Nixon was the 37th President of the United States. He was president from 1969 to 1974. He was active in politics, however, long before he was president, meaning he held, or had many different political offices before he became president. The phrase “to hold office” means to work in a government position, usually one that you have been elected to – the people have decided that you are the best person for the job.

Nixon was born back in 1913, almost 100 years ago, in California – right here in Southern California. He grew up in a poor family, but he always was a good student; he always did well in school. He graduated from a small college in Southern California called Whittier College, which is a college associated with the Quaker religious movement. We don’t know time to talk about the Quakers, but that would be a good topic for a future Café. In any case, the Quakers are a small religious group in the United States and they had this college, it’s still around – it’s still here – called Whittier College, which is about maybe 40 – 30-40 minutes from where I live in Los Angeles, to the east, of course. After finishing his college degree at Whittier, he went to Duke University in North Carolina, which is also a college originally started in part by the Quakers, to get his law degree. So, Nixon, like many people in politics, was a lawyer.

He worked in a private law firm, a private company of lawyers, and became what is called a partner in that law firm in 1938. In a law firm, the most important lawyers are called “partners,” they’re sort of like directors or presidents of the company. There are usually several partners in a law firm, and typically they each own part of the business.

In any case, Nixon married a few years later in 1942 and he and his wife moved to Washington, D.C. Remember, 1942, the U.S. is now involved in World War II. Nixon worked for something called the Office of Price Administration. Later, he joined the United States Navy, however he never saw combat. “Combat” (combat) is when you are actually fighting the enemy in a war, you are using your gun or whatever weapon you have. Nixon was not a soldier in that sense, even though he was a member of the Navy. He did mostly administrative work during the war, and of course, you need people like that, too.

After the war ended, Nixon decided to get into politics. He ran for office, meaning he became a candidate for a political position. In 1946, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing part of the State of California. In 1950, just four years later, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. The House of Representatives and the Senate, you may know, are two parts of what we call Congress, the government division that makes the laws. Congress makes the laws; they’re like our legislature, our Parliament, the organization in the government that includes representatives from all different parts of the United States. We talk about U.S. government in one of our special courses, Introduction to the United States, which you can find…let’s see…oh, in the ESL Podcast Store.

As a senator, Nixon became a strong “opponent,” or someone who disagrees or doesn’t like communism. This is the 1950s; the Soviet Union and the United States, after cooperating in World War II, now enter into a long, difficult relationship, what is sometimes referred to as the Cold War. Nixon was a Republican – a conservative Republican in the United States, and he was an opponent of communism; it’s one of the issues that he talked about. This made him very popular with many people, and it was a large part – an important part of the reason why General Dwight Eisenhower selected Nixon to be his vice-presidential candidate. So, after being in the U.S. Senate for only two years, and in elected office for only six, Nixon was asked to become a candidate for the vice-presidency – the number two job, if you will. So, Nixon rose very rapidly in American politics; he went from being just another lawyer to the vice-presidential candidate for the Republican Party in 1952, with perhaps one of the most popular American presidents, Dwight Eisenhower – he wasn’t president yet, but he was a famous general as well in World War II, which you may also know.

Although Nixon was popular with the American public, there was a lot of speculation about people who were giving him money for his political campaign that he was using for his personal expenses. “Speculation” is when people believe something is happening, but they don’t have any proof – they don’t have any evidence.

Nixon needed to defend himself against these accusations – these allegations, we could call them – these charges that he was doing something illegal, so he went on television and gave what has now become a very famous speech in American history called the Checkers speech. Now, why was it called the Checkers speech? Well, he shared a lot of information about his personal finances, where he got his money from, during this televised speech where he was explaining what happened. He had a dog that was given to him by someone. The dog’s name was Checkers. But although it was given to him by a political friend, he said that he wasn’t going to give the dog back because his young daughter loved the dog. So, Checkers, which is also the name of a popular game, was the dog that the Nixon family had, and Nixon used the dog in his speech. The dog was there with him, and it was considered a very effective speech. That is, he managed to convince people that he was an honest person. I guess having a dog next to you, for some people, is an indication – a sign that you are honest. It doesn’t work for me. However, American politics, like the politics in other countries I’m sure, often is about personal issues, and often focuses on things that aren’t particularly important but have a certain symbolic importance. The speech, as I said, was received warmly, meaning people liked it, and it was then known as the Checkers speech.

Well, after the Checkers speech, Eisenhower and Nixon won the election – Eisenhower was the president, Nixon was the vice-president – in 1952. Nixon became the second-youngest vice-president in American history. Nixon traveled internationally many times and was generally popular as a vice-president. Eisenhower and Nixon were elected to a second term, another four years, in 1956. In both years, they beat the same man – the same opponent, and man by the name of Adlai Stevenson.

As is common in American politics, the vice-president often tries to become president after his term of office is over, and that’s just what Nixon did. In 1960, Nixon ran for President of the United States, again as a Republican. Unfortunately, his opponent was someone who was also young and popular, a man by the name of John F. Kennedy. Kennedy won the election, however it was a very “close” election, meaning it was one where there wasn’t a big difference between the winner and the loser, similar to the 2000 George Bush - Al Gore election. In fact, Kennedy won by only about 120,000 votes. When you think about the millions of people who vote in a presidential election, that’s quite amazing. Some people say that Kennedy won because of political fraud in places like Chicago and perhaps other areas, but that is speculation. We don’t have any evidence, or at least it is not well known. In any case, Kennedy won and became president in 1961. We have our elections in the fall, and then the president takes over in January of the next year. Kennedy actually asked Nixon if he wanted in the government, and Nixon said no.

Nixon wanted to continue in politics, so he went back to California, where he was from, and he tried to become Governor of California in 1962. However, he lost that election, too, to a man by the name of Pat Brown, who was one of the most popular and famous governors in California history. His son, Jerry Brown, became governor in the 1970s and just became governor again, winning the election of 2010.

Well, Nixon decided that he was going to go back to his law practice; he traveled in Europe; he moved to New York. He was not active in politics, but he did speak for other people who wanted to get elected.

In 1968, however, Nixon decided to try to become president one more time. He won the election – he won the nomination, the right to be the candidate for the Republican Party, and then beat a man by the name of Hubert H. Humphrey. Humphrey, himself, was the vice-president of Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat. Humphrey is from my state, of Minnesota. I had the privilege – the honor of meeting Senator Humphrey back in the early 1970s. He was one of the most happy, positive politicians, in many ways, the opposite of Richard Nixon. He was sometimes called the Happy Warrior, but we’ll talk about Hubert Humphrey some other day. Now we’re talking about Nixon.

At Nixon’s “inauguration ceremony,” which is the official ceremony when the president officially becomes president, Nixon said that the greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker. “To bestow” (bestow) is a very formal word meaning to give. Nixon wanted to be a “peacemaker,” someone who tried to stop fighting and war. Unfortunately, the United States was already involved in a war at that time. Originally, the U.S. got involved under Kennedy; it continued under Johnson; and now, when Nixon became president, the U.S. was still involved in a war in Vietnam. We will won’t about the Vietnam War, but it was a war where many Americans – of course many Vietnamese and others – were being killed, and it became a very unpopular war. Nixon tried to end the war by doing things that he thought would reduce the number of Americans who were fighting in Vietnam.

Nixon also tried to do things to try to protect the natural environment, to slow inflation – to try to make sure the prices were not rising too quickly, and to promote some civil rights legislation or laws. He was reelected as President of the United States in 1972. That was not a close election; he beat a Democrat by the name of George McGovern. He was the only person in U.S. history to be elected twice as vice-president and twice as president.

Unfortunately for Nixon, all of this work that he did, some of it good, was overshadowed by what became known as the Watergate scandal. To “overshadow” something means to become bigger and more important than everything else. I called it the Watergate scandal. A “scandal” is when people behave very badly, often publicly. Watergate was the name of a hotel in Washington, D.C., and it was the place where the Democratic National Committee, the national governing group for the Democratic Party in the United States, had their headquarters. Five men were discovered trying to break in and steal things from the Democratic headquarters in Watergate. They tried to spy on the Democrats, meaning they tried to find out information about them that would help the other side, the Republicans, in an election. Unfortunately, some of the men were part of the Nixon Administration; they worked for Richard Nixon.

After they were arrested, Nixon tried to cover up or hide his involvement and the involvement of his administration in these illegal activities; it’s illegal to go into someone else’s office and try to steal things. However, he was not successful this time; it wasn’t like the Checkers speech, where he convinced people he was honest. The newspapers began to investigate him, in particular the Washington Post, and eventually more and more information became public that Nixon was involved in illegal activities.

In 1973, the president went on television and said that people have got to know – people need to know – whether or not their president is a crook. “Well, I’m not a crook,” he said. A “crook” (crook) is an informal term for a criminal, someone who has broken the law. Very few people believed Nixon this time, and the phrase “I am not a crook” was repeated to make fun of the president; you would hear that expression a lot by comedians and other people.

In 1974, Congress began what were called “impeachment hearings.” Impeachment is the way that the Congress can remove the president. If we have a president who is doing illegal things, the United States Congress can, in effect, impeach him. Basically what happens is one part of the legislature of the Congress, the House of Representatives, votes to say that he is guilty, and then the other part of the U.S. government Congress, the Senate, has a trial, just like a trial in a courtroom but somewhat different in form. In any case, it wasn’t necessary to impeach or try to accuse the president. Nixon decided instead, in August of 1974 (August 9th), to resign – to quit being president. His then vice-president, Gerald Ford, became the new president. Now, I have to mention that Nixon’s first vice-president was a former Governor of Maryland by the name of Spiro Agnew. Agnew, himself, had already resigned for other, different illegal activities. So, Gerald Ford, who was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives before becoming vice-president, was now the President of the United States. Nixon was the only U.S. president who resigned, but he decided it was a better option than being removed from office through impeachment.

Nixon went back to California, and soon after President Ford issued a pardon for him. A “pardon” (pardon) is official forgiveness for what he had done, meaning that he could not go to prison. He would not be charged; he would not have any other legal problems because of what he did as president. This was a very controversial decision, and was one of the main reasons President Ford did not win election in 1976.

Now in 1974, I was 11 years old. I remember the Watergate controversy. In fact, I watched television, I read the newspapers; I was very interested for some reason in what was going on. I knew that this was something important in American history. I eventually read a book about the Watergate controversy, a book that became a famous movie called All the President’s Men written by two of the reporters for the Washington Post that first discovered the illegal activities, or at least some of them by then President Nixon.

Nixon became ill after his pardon, but he eventually recovered, and in the late 70s and in the 1980s he wrote several books about foreign policy, which was one of his specialties. He did an interview – a famous interview with a British journalist by the name of David Frost. There was a movie made just a few years ago called Frost/Nixon about these interviews that David Frost did. It was one of the few times that Nixon talked about the Watergate scandal, and these interviews – again, I remember them – were watched by tens of millions of people.

Nixon went on to write 10 books, and by the late 1980s was actually somewhat more respected by some Americans. Nixon had what we might call a comeback. A “comeback” is when you return to popularity after not being popular for a certain amount of time.

Nixon died here in California in 1994. I was living here in Los Angeles; I remember when he died. More than 50,000 people went to see his coffin. The coffin is the box where they put the dead body before they bury it. I remember someone I was working with actually went out to an area about 40-45 minutes from where I live now to see the coffin. Nixon was 81 years old when he died. Many people grew to hate Richard Nixon, but he was a very important part of American politics for more than 50 years.

Now let’s answer, quickly, a few of your questions.

Our first question comes from Murai (Murai) in Japan. The question has to do with the meaning of the expression “off-the-grid.” When we say someone is “off-the-grid” (grid) we usually mean that they are independent; they don’t need help from anyone else. Sometimes it’s because they are trying to hide from other people. A “grid,” I should explain, is a system of delivering electrical power; we often talk about the “power grid.” Well, almost everyone in a country is on the power grid; you’re getting your power from the same people – the same company or group of companies. So, to be “off-the-grid” means to be isolated, to be separated; you’re not actually using the electricity from the places that everyone else gets them. However, the term isn’t just about electricity. It’s about people who disappear, who separate themselves, who are no longer easy to find, often because they did something wrong.

Alex (Alex) in Russia wants to know the meaning of the expression “to serve on-the-spot” (spot). “On-the-spot” means at the location or the place that something is happening. “I am reporting on-the-spot of a car accident.” I go to that place, and if I’m a television reporter, I give my report from the place where the thing happened. This meaning is actually more commonly expressed as “on the scene” (scene). “On-the-spot” has another meaning, which means immediately, right away. “I gave him the money on-the-spot.” Right there, I didn’t wait to give it back to him.

I can’t answer your questions on the spot, but you email them to eslpod@eslpod.com we’ll do our best to include them in a future Café.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us next time on the English Café.

English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse, copyright 2011 by the Center for Educational Development.


partner – one of the more important lawyers in a law firm; a lawyer who shares ownership of the business with other lawyers

* Wanda started working for that law firm when she was 27 and became a partner six years later.

combat – fighting in a war; fighting between the armies in a battle or war

* The latest report shows that over 20% of soldiers in combat get injured in some way.

speculation – a belief that something is true or is occurring, but one does not have proof or evidence

* There is speculation that our store will close at the end of this year if our sales don’t improve, but no one knows for sure what will happen.

close – with a small difference between the first- and second-place winners; won by a small amount or difference

* It’s much more entertaining to watch a basketball game when the score is close than when one team is clearly better than the other.

inauguration ceremony – an official event for someone to formally begin a job, such as the President of the United States

* Several past presidents attended the inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama.

peacemaker – a person who brings peace where there is fighting and war; a person who tries to end conflict and bring peace between two or more sides

* My sister is the peacemaker in our family, encouraging the rest of us to resolve our problems.

to overshadow – for something to be bigger and more important than something else, so that the other thing isn’t really noticed

* Denise never allowed her older sister to overshadow her, even though her sister was considered more beautiful and a better student in school.

to cover up – to hide; to prevent others from seeing or knowing about something, usually because it is shameful or wrong

* Chin tried to cover up what her dog had done to her father’s new shoes.

crook – criminal; a person who has committed a crime

* Even though we can’t find some of our money, I don’t think our accountant is a crook. He must have simply made a mistake.

impeachment hearings – official discussions about whether the government should take away the president’s job because he or she has done something very wrong or has committed a crime

* During the impeachment hearings, the president seemed uncomfortable and was unwilling to answer some of the most important questions.

pardon – official forgiveness for something bad or criminal that one has done; legally forgiving a criminal for a past crime

* The newspaper reported that the president pardoned several criminals whose family or friends made large cash contributions to his political campaign.

comeback – a return to popularity after a bad or difficult period of time; a return to popularity after a period of unpopularity

* My favorite actress from the 1970s hasn’t been in a movie in 25 years, but she’s hoping for a comeback later this year by appearing in a new film.

off-the-grid – living in a way that relies only on oneself, not on others, usually without using one or more public utilities, such as the electric company, gas company, and water company.

* Geraldo and Gisella lived off-the-grid for a year in a little house in the woods.

on-the-spot – at the scene of the action; immediately or without delay

* Having a doctor travel with the team allows players to get on-the-spot treatment if they get hurt.

What Insiders Know
The Song “Haldeman, Erlichman, Mitchell, and Dean” by The Creep

The Watergate scandal was a major historical event and it’s no surprise that at the time it was on everyone’s minds, including songwriters. In 1973, a “novelty” (not to be take seriously; comic) song was released by The Creep. A “creep” is a jerk, or an unlikable person who behaves in a bad way.

The song is sung from the “perspective” (view; outlook) of four of the most important “conspirators” (people who participate in a secret plan) in Watergate: H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, John Newton Mitchell, and John Dean. The song was well known at the time, and one year after the song was released, President Nixon resigned.

Here are some “lyrics” (words) from the song:

We’re Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, and Dean.

The way we’ve been treated is really obscene (offensive; disgusting).

To think that a bug (secret listening device) worth hardly a shrug (lifting of one’s shoulders to show that something does not matter),

Could end up by getting us tossed (thrown) in the jug (prison).

We all got the gate (lost our jobs) for no reason or rhyme.

You’d think we’d committed some horrible crime.

Our minds may be dirty, but our hands are clean.

We’re Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, and Dean.

We’re Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, and Dean.

Our job was to see that the White House stayed green (had money).

We might have had flaws (imperfections), like bending the laws (not following the law exactly),

But God only knows it was for a good cause (worthy goal).