The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers

My Day

NEW YORK. -- I rather hope there will be no fifth debate between Sen. John F. Kennedy and Vice-President Richard Nixon.

It seems to me that the public has gained by the four debates that already have been held, that the main objective has been achieved -- namely, more people than ever before have had an opportunity to see their candidates and form their own personal ideas about them and their policies.

Mr. Kennedy seems to be willing to have a fifth debate if it is unlimited in scope, and I would think this is reasonable. For a debate centered only on Cuba, as suggested by Vice-President Nixon,1 would mean that this whole question would have to be gone into from a historical and precedent-making point of view, which might be useful for the American people but might not be very beneficial for the country in its relations with the world at the present time.

I can visualize such a debate roaming over the U-2 incident,2 what we did and did not do as regards to Nicaragua,3 the possibility of Mr. Khrushchev's growing Soviet influence in Cuba4 -- and what we should or should not do in all those circumstances.

In fact, you could have a full discussion of the Monroe Doctrine,5 which is not very popular at present either at home or abroad.

So, it might be well to postpone this question until one or the other of the candidates is in office and at such a time when what he says is authoritative.

* * * * *

A full-page ad in one of our newspapers Tuesday morning said a few things that seem to me important. Quoted from Abraham Lincoln were the words: "The task of government is to do for all the people those things which individually they cannot do for themselves." Quite evidently, therefore, this means the foreign policy of the country.

No individual by himself can hope to cover the world, and so the national government must be responsible. And under our government the President is the head and he makes the final decisions on foreign policy. The Secretary of State and the State Department prepare official papers and give the President all information and all proposed answers, but the President makes the changes that he wants.

Presidents have dealt with the situation in different ways. Some of them have turned over to the State Department and the Secretary of State the major responsibilities, and such Presidents have acted merely as rubber stamps. Others have accepted the responsibility with its full constitutional implications.

In the latter instances this necessitates a close cooperation between the Secretary of State and the President. Their minds must run along similar lines so far as objectives are concerned. It might be well for them to differ on their first reactions, on methods, on mechanism -- but a President could not accept this responsibility and work with a man whose objectives he did not completely trust to be pretty much the same as his own.

So, I think our next President's choice of the people with whom he must work is going to be one of the extremely important choices for whichever candidate comes into office in January.

* * * * *

The second obvious duty of the Federal government, which cannot be carried alone by states or cities, is the over-all economy of the country. It is impossible to see the whole picture in any one state and to see the relationship of the state's economy to the world economy.

Many businesses are run on a world basis, of course, but only a man who looks at the economy of the country from the point of view that the President has can judge of the economic situation, the diplomatic situation, the security of his country, and the preparation to meet future situations that would affect the lives of even our children.

This whole picture only the President can see and can deal with through Federal government strength.

That does not mean dictatorship, nor does it mean control. But it does mean that states can be given the help very often to meet Federal needs as well as their own needs, where alone they might never be able to do so -- and if they were able to do so they might struggle only to achieve their own interest and point of view. Therefore, only the President can serve the over-all good.

Such procedure also makes essential that whatever decisions are reached in many of these situations must be proclaimed to the people of the world by the President, who has the over-all view, and not by people in their separate capacities and communities, who might well say things that would cause fear and even panic in foreign countries.

This has happened and it may happen again. And so we must realize that here again the President of the United States has the commanding voice that must carry information to his own people and to the people of the world.

I do not have the space to show how defense of the country involves many of the things besides our military power and, therefore, has become a Federal responsibility, but I will try to do this in a future column.


     1. American policy toward anti-Castro rebels became the focal point of press coverage of the fourth (and final) debate held October 21st. Nixon's attacks on Kennedy's pro-rebel stance as "immoral and dangerous," declarations that "we not break our treaties," and warnings that Cuban civil war "could easily spread . . . a world war" received front-page coverage. Nixon, whose internal polls showed Kennedy with a narrow lead, tried to capitalize on this coverage by challenging Kennedy to a fifth debate. Kennedy, who backtracked and denied that he proposed violating treaties or sending aid to anti-Castro forces, refused to debate a fifth time. [Stephen E. Ambrose, Nixon: Volume I – The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), pp. 594-595.]
     2. On May 1, 1960, just before both the West Virginia primary and the scheduled Soviet-American summit in Paris, the Russians shot down an American high-altitude reconnaissance U-2 aircraft flying over the Soviet Union. Although the Eisenhower administration claimed that the U-2 was merely a weather plane that had strayed from its charted course, Khrushchev produced photos of the pilot, Francis Gary Powers, the aircraft, and the reconnaissance tools contained within the aircraft. The triumphant Soviets refused to attend the Paris summit and a chagrined Eisenhower administration promised the Soviets it would no longer fly over Soviet airspace. The Soviets released pilot Powers in 1962 when the Kennedy administration agreed to release convicted Soviet spy Rudolph Abel. [Paul S. Boyer, et al., eds., The Oxford Companion to United States History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 791.]
     3. Anatasio Somoza Garcia ruled Nicaragua with the support of the Guardia Nacional after the U.S. Marines left the country in 1933. Within months, he ordered the assassination of his opposition and established a harsh military dictatorship that would remain in his family until 1968. Despite evidence of graft and human rights abuses, Eisenhower so valued Somoza's zealous anti-communism that in 1957 the President not only sent an airplane to move Somoza, who had been mortally wounded by a young Nicaraguan poet while visiting Panama, to an American hospital in the Canal Zone but also dispatched his own physician to tend to the dictator. At the time ER wrote this column, Nicaraguans lived under the U.S. supported dictatorship of Luis Anatasio Somoza Debayle, Somoza's oldest son, who despite promises of social reform, continued to rule as ruthlessly as his father. [Jan Palmowski, A Dictionary of Twentieth Century World History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 567.]
     4. Soviet influence in Cuba, see My Day, 7/16/60, n4
     5. Monroe Doctrine, see My Day, 7/16/60, n3

Index to this Document: Cuba: Eisenhower Doctrine and; Khrushchev and; Monroe Doctrine and; My Day and; Nixon and; Soviet interference in; U-2 incident and; Eisenhower Doctrine: Cuba and; Eisenhower, Dwight D.: Nicaraguan policy of; Somoza and; Kennedy-Nixon debates: My Day on; possible fifth; ER on; Khrushchev, Nikita: Cuba and; Lincoln, Abraham: ER on; Monroe Doctrine: Cuba and; My Day; on Cuba; on Kennedy-Nixon debates; on presidential leadership; Nicaragua: Eisenhower policy towards; Roosevelt, Eleanor: Abraham Lincoln, quoted by; on presidential leadership; U.S. government, on responsibilities of; Somoza Garcia, Anatasio: assassination attempt on; Eisenhower and; U-2 incident: Cuba and; defined; U.S. Government: defense responsibilities of; economic responsibilities of, ER and; President of the United States, leadership and; Secretary of State, as presidential advisor; states rights and

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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