If You Ask Me by Eleanor Roosevelt

If You Ask Me
by Eleanor Roosevelt

February 1961


As long as I can remember, I've heard about the farm problem—as though farmers were, in some way, different from other Americans and not subject to the same rules. The old-fashioned word that occurs to me is mollycoddling. Could you explain why this one occupational group requires so much special legislation and why the law of supply and demand that applies to all the rest of us doesn't apply to farmers?

It is impossible to explain briefly the whole economic background of agriculture. Farming used to be the occupation of one man or of his family and perhaps one or two hired men. Today, it is big business and can be really successful only on a cooperative basis. Much of it is mechanized, just as industry is; but while the need for men is less, the need for capital is greater. The law of supply and demand does not apply as well to agriculture as to other areas, because the results are not always a question of human planning. It is perhaps the greatest gambling occupation in the world, yet it provides necessities that all the world must have. There is no justification for mollycoddling, but much careful thinking and planning must be done, not only now but in the future.


A great deal of emphasis is put on the therapy of recreation. We are told the way to avoid heart attacks and breakdowns is to take vacations, have a hobby, forgot about work in the evenings. As far as I can figure out, you don't follow any of this advice. Is it because you disagree with it or because you are the exceptional person who doesn't need to take it easy sometimes?

I do take it easy sometimes, but mostly, it is better for me to be busy. Living alone, with no home responsibilities, gives me more time for work—and work can be a hobby. For me, it is a necessity.


The many problems in the newly free African states seem to indicate that the freed peoples have no experience and no machinery for effectively governing themselves. To make the transition to self-government less chaotic, would it be possible and desirable for the UN to set up a five-year waiting period, with a comprehensive training program, for countries about to become independent?

Neither the UN nor anybody else can tell states that have fought their way to freedom to wait five years until the UN trains them. The best way is for the UN to offer such help as they are willing to receive, both in setting up their government and in establishing the services the government should render. This the UN is equipped to do, and it can call upon other nations, large and small, to give aid by rendering technical assistance.


Would you care to make a long-range prediction and tell us who you think the Republican candidate for president will be in 1964?

There will undoubtedly be some soul searching in the Republican Party that may lead to the nomination of Mr. Rockefeller or perhaps Mr. Goldwater. Who knows?


Many of my Republican friends feel that Mr. Eisenhower let Mr. Nixon down by coming into the campaign so late in 1960. Would you consider this a fair criticism?

Mr. Eisenhower has often waited to do things rather late; but after all, Mr. Nixon ran for office—not Mr. Eisenhower—so I think you can hardly accuse Mr. Eisenhower of letting the Republican candidate down.


Great disapproval was directed at the television program that interviewed Premier Khrushchev, on the basis that the questioning gave Mr. K. a perfect propaganda platform. Do you think there was any gain for us in the interview?

Yes. I think all we can see and hear of a personality like Mr. Khrushchev is of advantage. The more contacts we have up and down the line with all those who come here from the Soviet Union, the better we can understand the real difficulties that lie between us—particularly the misinterpretation to their people of everything they have seen here. For instance, the description of New York City that Mr. Khrushchev gave his people on his return was hardly one you and I would recognize; but I was very glad to know what he said, because it revealed what he wanted Russians to believe.


For years, there has been controversy over whether cameras should be allowed in the courtroom. Those who believe they should be feel that the public is not receiving full coverage of important court cases. Those who disagree contend that the presence of cameras would be distracting to the jury. What is your view?

My view is that there should not be any TV, radio, or cameras in courtrooms. The newspaper reporters can tell us all we need to know, and it is much more dignified and less sensational than when a court is disturbed by the inevitable flurry these other forms of communication create.


How do you personally feel free medical aid for the aged should be handled?

I feel very strongly that this should be compulsory and automatic under Social Security, and I also feel that Social Security should increase its coverage so that more people are included in its benefits. Medical care for the aged is as important to young people as it is to old. If Social Security does not cover this care, young people are obliged to take on the burden of their parents' medical bills.


How often do you buy a new car?

Although I have no set time schedule, I find that my car has to be turned in about every two years because I use a car a great deal.


During his campaign, Mr. Kennedy said that seventeen million Americans go to bed hungry. Do you think this could possibly be true? If so, what groups of people are these?

It is very probably true. I would not be able to judge the exact number, but I think conditions surrounding our migratory workers are far from good, and their children very often may go to bed hungry. In the coal states, there is no question but that many children are underfed. In certain mountain areas, there may well be children who, while they get enough to eat, do not get the right kind of food. This is something we can, and should, eliminate in our country.


We have all been made very much aware of the dangers of Ugly Americanism abroad. In your travels, have you evolved any special rules for personal behavior that the average American tourist might observe, to help dispel the unpleasant picture people of other countries now have of us?

I think the main rule to follow is always to be kind and thoughtful to everybody with whom you come in contact; to show your gratitude for little things; to learn, before you go, some of the customs and habits of the countries you visit, so as not to offend inadvertently. Be interested in what you see, and don't always be comparing things unfavorably with what you have at home.

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About this document

If You Ask Me, February 1961

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

McCall's, volume 88, February 1961

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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