The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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LOS ANGELES—I wonder whether the rest of the people in the nation watching the third debate between the two Presidential candidates could have been as amused as I was at the little interchange concerning President Truman's "bad language." How virtuous can we really be in the U.S.? How many children do you really think have never heard anyone in their environment say "go to hell" or "damn"? Somehow I think the morals of our children will survive Mr. Truman's speech, and I cannot join Mr. Nixon in his virtue because he reminds me too much of a little story we used to laugh about in our family for many years.

My mother-in-law, like Mr. Nixon, felt that no gentleman ever used bad language. When by chance my husband said "damn" in front of the children, she would draw herself up and say: "Franklin never used to use bad language. He has learned it from his little boy Johnny, whom you, Eleanor, allow to spend so many hours in the stable!"

Somehow these occasional expressions by the man of the house never have seemed to me to have had a very bad effect on any of the children in any of the families I have known. Of course, there are paragons of virtue. I can remember once being on a trip in West Virginia during the depression to look into some mining conditions. We had traveled all day and were very tired. Two ladies and one very gentle man, a Quaker by religion who could not allow himself any violent letting off of steam, were in the party. When we suddenly blew a tire at 2 A.M. on a mountainside about 10 miles from the hotel where we were to spend what remained of the night, I am afraid the two ladies said many things which were not lady-like. All the gentleman said was, "Too bad, too bad," as he walked up and down the road while we waited to get the tire replaced. We had two hours of sleep that night because we had to start at 6 the next morning, but nothing ever stirred Mr. Clarence Pickett to bad language.

I wonder, however, if this is really a criterion by which we choose the best man to be President of the United States. History perhaps will record that Mr. Truman was a great President, and a little sense of humor might help in understanding his occasional lapses in language.

From his remarks elsewhere in the debate, it would seem that to Mr. Nixon the principle of holding on to the small islands off the coast of China is more important than what is happening, and what may happen, to the people on these islands. This discovery may shock a good many people, but it did not surprise me.

The Vice President did a very good advertising job for his future speeches on this TV debate. On two occasions he said that he was going to make in the coming week a major speech on the subject on which he was questioned. Then, apparently on the theory that no one would dare interrupt him, he proceeded to talk quite a lengthy time in order that no one would notice that he had said nothing!

Mr. Kennedy may plan to make major speeches on some of these subjects, but he didn't mention it—he answered the questions as they were put. He did have to correct certain statements made by the Vice President, but that is to be expected. On the whole, I felt that he told us more than did his adversary.

Mr. Khrushchev's departure for home leaving comparative peace and calmness behind him at the U.N., must be a relief to the delegates who really want to get down to work. Mr. Khrushchev will probably never realize that his tactics have offended the sense of propriety of a great many people. The representatives of many African and Asian states are perhaps far more sophisticated than some of us realize, and they are not too easily impressed by bluster and interruption.

One thing did trouble me. I did not feel that any one of the Western delegates succeeded in giving a sense of real inspiration about the ideals of democracy. Mr. Macmillan made an excellent speech; but Mr. Khrushchev succeeded, by his clowning and his interruptions, in forcing the newspapers to carry so much about him that it somehow lessened the impact of Mr. Macmillan's presentation.

Some leader must appear from the West who can put into words, not the advantages of any form of economy, but the inspiration of belief in the dignity of man and the value of the human individual. This is the basic difference; this is what we of the West really fight for. True, we have not succeeded as yet even in the U.S. in giving it to all our citizens. But we strive for it and we believe in it, and someday we will achieve it.



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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, October 17, 1960

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Digital edition published 2008, 2017 by
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Available under licence from the Estate of Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.

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MEP edition publlished on 2008-06-30

TEI-P5 edition published on 2017-04-28

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.