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

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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, 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, what we did and did not do as regards to Nicaragua, the possibility of Mr. Khrushchev's growing Soviet influence in Cuba-- and what we should or should not do in all those circumstances.

In fact, you could have a full discussion of the Monroe Doctrine, 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 overall 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 overall 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 overall 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.


(Copyright, 1960, by the United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • New York (N.Y., United States) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, October 26, 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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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.