If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

October 1960


The original purpose of Civil Service was to give us government employees who are more efficient and more responsive to the average citizen. Hasn't that purpose been defeated by freezing inept and rude people in their jobs? Does the average citizen have any practical recourse to bad service among our civil servants?

Yes, I think anyone who has dealt with people in Civil Service will agree that the rules have often protected people who should not be protected. Being in Civil Service sometimes makes people less interested in doing a good job—they simply put in so many hours at their job and get away from it as quickly as possible. The time has probably come to revise the rules, but certainly not to do away with Civil Service or proper protection for those in Civil Service. The average citizen should take his complaint to the superiors in the office where rudeness or bad service occurred. The superior of a Civil Service employee does have some ways of improving the service.


How did you explain war to your children? My six-year-old daughter hears about war from her friends, sees soldiers and Gold Star Mothers parading on Memorial Day, on TV sees (unavoidably) scenes of combat and death, then asks me what war is all about and why people kill one another over it. What shall I say?

I think the simplest method is to explain to a child who plays with other children that they often have differences of opinion and sometimes they fight. Unless they learn self-control and unselfishness and kindness, their hostile tendencies will become more and more dangerous as they grow up. Too many people have grown up without learning this, and the older they are, the more dangerous the weapons they use. That is what leads to war and death, and that is why we have to begin by teaching children to live with one another and to exercise discipline.


Should the United States adopt a national lottery?

I do not see any reason the United States should adopt a national lottery, since there is considerable objection to it. If the day comes when more people want a lottery, perhaps the government will decide it is wise to allow one; but as long as there is so much strong feeling against one, it seems to me there is no point in raising the question.


What do you think of the electoral system as compared with a popular vote?

The electoral system was instituted because of the travel conditions of the early days in our country, and of course these difficulties no longer exist. Still, we have had the electoral system for so long that, while I think probably the popular vote would be just as easy to manage today, perhaps tradition is too strong, and we would not like to change our present procedure.


Would you be in favor of a world-wide trade boycott against South Africa, in protest of that government's policy of apartheid?

Yes, I would. It seems to me that the policy of South Africa is dangerous for the whole world and may bring bloodshed and death far exceeding what has already occurred.


Mr. Truman recently stated that he felt store owners have a right to serve whom they wish and refuse service on the same basis. Granted this may be their constitutional right, doesn't it seem that Mr. Truman is speaking as a resident of the South instead of as an ex-president, and do you agree with him?

I don't agree with Mr. Truman, as I think all our citizens should be served wherever any citizen has a right to ask for service. It should be an equal right, regardless of race, creed, or color.


If you were confronted with an inferior Democratic candidate and a really superior Republican candidate, which would you vote for, and why?

In a national or state election, I would probably vote for the Democrat. I feel that he would be surrounded by able people who would make him live up to the traditions of the Democratic Party, at least in a higher office. This does not hold true in local elections. In these elections, quite frankly, I think it is wise to vote for the individual rather than for the party.


What is your opinion of the Cuban government's appropriating hotels, banana plantations, etc.?

I am afraid the Cuban government is behaving in an unwise way and one which may prove harmful to its own economic future. Any government has a right to take over property owned by the nationals of another country if it pays the proper price. However, if, as the Cuban government does, you need foreign capital for development, this is not a good way to encourage such capital.


Do you think Congressmen are as guilty of padding expense accounts and of nepotism as it may seem? Were you aware of these practices when you were in Washington?

Some nepotism, of course, is always practiced, and in many cases it is permissible. For instance, Mrs. Garner was always her husband's secretary—and a very good one. In her case, it was entirely acceptable, and similar cases are sometimes completely justifiable. Naturally, it should not be carried to the point where people belonging to a government official's family are employed without doing the work they are supposed to. As to padding expenses, I think the rules should be tightened. There should be no opportunity for spending extravagantly as a government servant.


How do you feel about wire tapping? Is it justifiable when used against criminals, spies, and potential traitors?

The only time I think it is justifiable is if the authorities really know, or have reason to suspect, that they must use it to find potential spies or traitors. And then it should be done by only the most responsible authorities. Wire tapping for any other reasons whatsoever should never be allowed.


Do you feel that the trend toward overcasualness in American habits of dress, living, etc., is deplorable?

I consider it a mistake when behavior or appearance attracts attention. For instance, young people should be clean and neat and modestly dressed. They do not have to wear uncomfortable garments, but their clothes should be suitable for what they are doing. This holds true for people of all ages. As far as casualness in living goes, I think that can be extremely trying. It means that, among family and friends, you do not observe the rules of politeness and consideration of others—a great inconvenience to everyone.


I have heard people say that in the event of a Democratic victory in November, Adlai Stevenson is likely to be appointed Secretary of State. What particular qualities do you feel he has that would make him effective in dealing with other countries, especially Russia?

I think he is the only person who has the knowledge of the world as a whole, developed by much traveling and careful study. His gift for meeting with people has been proved, and he is able to create sympathetic understanding. He would not be fooled by anyone, but would know the underlying reasons for the attitudes of others.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, October1960

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
[ ERPP bio | VIAF | WorldCat | DPLA | SNAC ]

McCall's, volume 88, October 1960

Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

Digital edition published 2014, 2016 by
The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project
The George Washington University
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