The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers

My Day

NEW YORK. -- I have waited to talk about the second "great debate" between our respective candidates for the Presidency because I wanted to hear as much as possible of the reactions of other people. The most general opinion I get is that the make-up man and the lighting helped Mr. Nixon very much.

I am not quite sure that this satisfies me completely, for I had to look at Mr. Nixon twice before I recognized him. Furthermore, it would seem to me that the objective in these debates was to get to know the two candidates as they are, not as some make-up man wishes to make them appear. This question, however, does not seem to arise with Mr. Kennedy, as I understand he decided that it was more important that people get to know him as he is.

Lighting, of course, can affect both candidates greatly, but that depends entirely on the technician at the time -- and when all is said and done this is not a beauty contest. These two men are trying to tell us what future they believe the nation faces and as nearly as possible along general lines what their ideas are as to next steps.

On this score, this was a better debate than the first meeting. Both sides were sharper. Mr. Nixon was more finished, but it seems to me in the details of dates and figures Mr. Kennedy was perhaps more the master of information. This perhaps is only natural because as a Senator he would have sat in on many of the debates, whereas the Vice-President is not expected to be present at every session and frequently has to be away, so he could not follow details as closely.

This second debate, it seems to me, did not give either side a clear-cut advantage over the other. Several people have told me that they wish the candidates could contest strictly in the form of a real debate -- just two men answering each other, minus the interjections on the part of the reporters. In that way we could get a clearer concept of what was in each man's mind. We would get more real information.

My criticism would be that this debate did not take any specific area and cover it minutely. One found oneself jumping from subject to subject, often wondering how one had come to touch on some extraneous point. I hope that in the next two debates one at least will be completely given up to the approach (which must be a new approach) covering our own security, and our position as leaders of the non-Communist world.

So far my mail reflects the feeling that Senator Kennedy has not said anything very new and that he endorses a very old position, namely the stockpiling of arms so that we may speak from strength. I have an idea that what he really endorses is a greater amount of research in new weapons, both defensive and offensive, and perhaps a new approach to training for such defense as we need in a military way.

I would like to know from both candidates whether they are really thinking through the many-sided defense and offense problems which could be undertaken by this country but which would require new concepts of education and would be a great inspirational lift to the parents and young people of the country. Many of our people would get the feeling that there was a new field in which they could serve their country, and at the same time serve humanity, and that their government was prepared to help them do so.

I have a feeling that there is hardly anything we undertake for the welfare of human beings -- in medicine, in agriculture, in better teaching methods, in technicians who understand administration and organization, in the improvement and appreciation of crafts and the arts -- which is not really part of what we can do for our own defense and for the lifting of the morale of the people of the world.

One thing above everything else that seems to me wise is Senator Kennedy's attitude about the Far East. At the same time the Vice-President's attitude is very astonishing. The latter told us that the defense of Quemoy and Matsu, those two islands off the mainland of China, was a matter of principle.1 Only a few years ago both the President and the then Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, felt rather differently. I have felt for sometime that we would be rather relieved if we could evacuate them because it did not make sense to risk a war over them.

In the Far East there is also another reality that sooner or later our people will have to face. With the Chinese mainland in the hands of the Communists and their rapidly growing industrial development to which the Soviet Union has been contributing considerably, it seems fairly evident that no real disarmament can be agreed on unless this particular area, in which a quarter of the world's population lives, sits in on the discussion and is a part of the agreement.2

We may not like the Chinese Communist leaders. We certainly do not like any Communist regime. But we cannot have disarmament and leave out this large section of the world community.

If they remain armed the rest of us cannot be disarmed. This is an unpleasant fact, but facts have to be faced and as soon as we accept this the more chance we have for realistic policies in the Far East.


     1. In 1954, during the Korean War peace negotiations, the communist People's Republic of China (PRC) bombed the islands of Quemoy and Matsu in the Taiwan Straits, which were controlled by the U.S.-supported Chinese Nationalists (ROC). The U.S., adhering to its policy of containment, reacted to the bombing by strengthening its support of the Nationalists in an attempt to prevent any incursion by the PRC in these small and seemingly unimportant islands. In 1955 the crisis peaked when Washington threatened to use nuclear force to deter the PRC. Talks between the United States and the PRC relieved the tension. Three years later, another conflict arose over the islands when the PRC again bombed the islands. When the U.S. sent aircraft carriers to the area and the Soviet Union expressed support for the PRC, war seemed possible. However, as in 1955, negotiations between Washington and Beijing defused what could have been a very dangerous situation. During the second televised presidential debate (October 7th), the candidates clashed over this issue. Kennedy argued that it would be dangerous to take a stand against the PRC over Quemoy and Matsu, while Nixon declared that the United States should never abandon the islands to the Communists. [John Whitclay Chambers II, ed., The Oxford Companion to American Military History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 711; Thomas C. Reeves, A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy (New York: The Free Press,1991), pp.196-197; Theodore H. White, The Making of the President 1960 (New York: Atheneum Publishers, 1988), p. 290.]
     2. In 1949, the nationalist Republic of China (ROC) and its leader, Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan after Mao Zedong's communist PRC forces defeated it in a bloody civil war. The United States, while favoring the ROC and offering it military and economic assistance, refused to recognize the PRC and firmly opposed its admission to the United Nations. Although the U.S. had no formal relationship with the PRC throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. did restore relations with the ROC (Taiwan) after the outbreak of the Korean War. By 1957, the PRC under Mao Zedong's leadership broke with the Soviet model of communism by implementing a new vision of communism with the "Great Leap Forward" of 1958-1960. The Soviet Union retaliated, withdrew its advisors and aid, and the tensions between the two largest communist countries increased. When the Great Leap Forward failed, precipitating massive food shortages, industrial and economic collapse occurred. By the time of the second Kennedy-Nixon debate, the PRC's relationship with the Soviet Union was deteriorating; however, the West remained unaware of this tension until 1963 when the PRC publicly disputed with the Soviet Union over U.S.-Soviet agreement on the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.[Joel Krieger, ed., Oxford Companion to Politics of the World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 128-129, 829-831, 897.]

Index to this Document: Chiang Kai-shek: defeat of; China, Peoples Republic of (PRC): ER on; industrial development of; Soviet aid to; China, Republic of (ROC): Korean War and; Dulles, John Foster: Quemoy and Matsu; Eisenhower, Dwight D.: Quemoy and Matsu and; Kennedy, John F.: ER's assessment of; Kennedy-Nixon debates: My Day and; Nixon's appearance and; Quemoy and Matsu; ER on; Korean War: China and; Mao Zedong: victory of; My Day; Kennedy-Nixon debates and; Nixon, Richard: image of; PRC policy of; presidential debates and; Quemoy and Matsu and; ROC policy of; ER's criticism of; Quemoy and Matsu: defined; JFK on; Nixon on; ER on; Roosevelt, Eleanor: on disarmament; education of; JFK, appraisal of; JFK, Far East policies of; JFK, mail regarding; JFK, national defense position of; Nixon, opinion of; on PRC; public service and; public welfare as defense policy; on television and politics; U.S. Government: foreign policy of, towards PRC;

Published by the Model Editions Partnership

Recommended citation: Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the Election of 1960: A Project of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, ed. by Allida Black, June Hopkins, John Sears, Christopher Alhambra, Mary Jo Binker, Christopher Brick, John S. Emrich, Eugenia Gusev, Kristen E. Gwinn, and Bryan D. Peery (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2003). Electronic version based on unpublished letters. .

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