Eleanor Roosevelt Interviewed by Bill Downs and Edward P. Morgan

1953. An Interview with Eleanor Roosevelt: What is a Liberal?
An Interview with Eleanor Roosevelt

This interview took place on the “Longines Chronoscope” broadcast at 11:00 PM on August 26, 1953.

Excerpt: Eleanor Roosevelt Explains the Meaning of the Word ‘Liberal’

BILL DOWNS: You have become known as the leader of what is loosely called the “liberal movement” in this country, or what used to be called the liberal movement in this country, and some people call them “do-gooders” and the rest of it–could you define a liberal for us in your own words?

ELEANOR ROOSEVELT: …I would feel that a liberal was a person who kept an open mind, was willing to meet new questions with new solutions, and felt that you could move forward; you didn’t have to always look backward and be afraid to look forward.

DOWNS: And that’s what this National Issues Committee* that you’re…

ROOSEVELT: The National Issues Committee is going to try to look at the issues, to put them in simple terms so that the people can understand them as objectively as possible and to feel that they can as the liberals do move forward.

EDWARD P. MORGAN: …We’ve been told by our experts that we may have to live in this world of uncertainty and indecision short of war, in a Cold War for X number of years to come. What is your recipe for us to face up to it?

ROOSEVELT: Well I think the study of our history. Certainly the people who settled this country didn’t have any great security, and it’s hard for the young to live in uncertainty; they love to be sure of the future. But I really think that we have the stamina, particularly if we look at what we came from, to live through uncertainty.

* Eleanor Roosevelt describes the National Issues Committee two weeks before this interview:

HYDE PARK, Thursday—On Wednesday morning I went to Washington on an early plane to attend meetings of the National Issues Committee. This committee was formed because of the fact that in the last campaign a group of people felt that both political parties needed to have presented to them the issues of the day backed by modern progressive thinking.

There seemed to be a certain lack of confidence and a certain spirit of apprehension creeping into the thinking of many statesmen. Things had been so good, could they continue good and expand or must they of necessity contract? This was the feeling on the economic side.

Where foreign affairs were concerned, some people began to be apprehensive for fear we were doing too much. There was very little realization that what we were doing was in preparation for a peaceful world making new nations able to trade with us on a peacetime basis when wartime preparations ceased to be necessary.

This group of people decided that in a democracy it was important that the people should continuously be informed of national issues and perhaps know where those national issues were tied to international issues. Washington has many research organizations. Some of the people connected with these organizations were interested in this group.

Everyone knew there was information that should be in the hands of the people of the United States. Sometimes it was hard to read, written at length in research language. Could it be done briefly and popularly so that all of us could understand? In Washington the formal organization was started with Mr. Don Pryor as Executive Director. He has a background of newspaper, radio and television work and he served in the Korean Relief Administration under Mr. Kingsley.

If the National Issues Committee can raise its budget of one hundred thousand dollars for this year, get its committees started working on a program for getting out this information on important national issues in a purely nonpartisan and objective way, but with the point of view of liberals who believe the United States can progress, then I believe we will be doing a basic piece of work which will help our democracy to grow and strengthen our quality of leadership.

After the morning meeting of executives we had a money-raising lunch. Then I had a meeting with some of the staff of the Americans for Democratic Action to hear the reports of their progress, which seems to be very satisfactory. Twenty-five hundred new members in the first five months of this year is a sign of healthy growth in the interest in government. Then a press conference and a five o’clock plane back to New York.

On the plane I sat beside a very competent-looking gentleman who was studying charts. After a little while, he said, “Mrs. Roosevelt, could I talk to you? I am a management engineer. My firm is consulted by small businesses primarily when they get into trouble. If they consult us early enough, we can sometimes help straighten out their difficulties. If they leave it to too late then they go under.

“I am really worried at the number that has gone under, particularly in the northern part of the South and in some of the Mountain States during the past few months. It will not show up in statistics for another month, but small business is having a bad time and most of us do not realize it.

“Two automobile distributors in one place, whose businesses I analyzed, closed last week. I’ve just analyzed the business of a building supply merchant who for 15 years has done well. Now he is going under. Big business is all right but little business is having a bad time.”

E.R.