Nepotism and the New Deal

Westbrook Pegler

Spartanburg Herald-Journal/October 30, 1940

New York, Oct. 29.—Notwithstanding letters and editorials to the contrary, I have a higher respect for the office of President of the United States than those who exploit that office for personal profit or benefit or condone such exploitation. The occupant of the presidency is supposed to guard its honor and dignity, and if he fails to do so, then he himself is guilty of disrespect for the office. That is getting down to the first principles of honesty, but some Americans have so far succumbed to an influence which has been at work for the last seven years as to believe that one who objects to exploitation of the office is guilty of lese majesty. If we have come to that, then we must never impeach a dishonest judge lest we impair the dignity of the courts or expose a venal and unscrupulous editor lest we limit the freedom of the press.

President Roosevelt himself as governor of New York expressed his contempt for “a public official who allows a member of his family to obtain fees or benefits through his political influence.” If the cases had been reversed, that is, if a situation had existed in the family and presidential household of Herbert Hoover in 1932 parallel to that which has been allowed to develop in President Roosevelt’s close circle, the part of the first New Deal would have withered Mr. Hoover and his group with fires of scorn. Not the least righteous of the angry men of the opposition would have been Charlie Michelson, who was to see a day when he would be in receipt of $20,000 a year from a rich and soulless radio corporation having delicate dealings with the powerful Federal Communications Commission yet would continue to sit in at the president’s press conferences in the president’s private office as a familiar of the place, right under the American flag.

It is often said, on what basis I do not know, that Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt gives all of her earnings to charity. I have never heard or read any announcement to this effect and suspect that those who believe this to be true have carelessly misconstrued the announcement of several years ago that she was donating to charity the proceeds of her radio orations only. According to John T. Flynn’s figures Mrs. Roosevelt would have had $750,000 over and above her radio income. And even if it is true that she gives most or all of this to charity, the question still is not what Mrs. Roosevelt does with the money but to what extent the presidential office figures in the calculations of those who pay it. Moreover Mrs. Roosevelt need not give away a dime of this income. By her precedent, another first lady could make as much or more by work and showmanship and keep it all.

John N. Garner stated the correct position when early in the first term of the New Deal, in rejecting an offer of $1,500 a week for radio work he said that if the sponsor was trying to hire the vice president of the United States the price was too little, and if he was trying to hire John Garner, it was too much.

It is conceded that Elliott Roosevelt participated in negotiations before the communications commission which yielded him a profit of extraordinary size for a boy of his years at the time, and it has since been said by his own representative that he has been earning an income of $1,000 a week as a broadcaster. And, of Jimmy Roosevelt it may be recalled that while President Roosevelt was joyously exposing to public scrutiny the income tax returns of individuals who had displeased him the administration doggedly refused the demand of a Massachusetts congressman that Jimmy’s tax returns be exposed to the same expert, searching inspection. Jimmy finally did reveal his returns and admit that he had sent a wire to his father’s secretary bespeaking special kindness for a rich businessman who was about to call on Mr. Roosevelt because, as Jimmy’s wire said, “he is important to me in a business way.” But the return never was put to official expert public analysis, which is a far different thing.

After that Jimmy was given a White House job at $10,000 a year, and his mother became an official of his insurance company which had dealings with firms beholden in various ways to the Roosevelt administration.

Forbes Morgan, an uncle of Mrs. Roosevelt, had a federal job for a while, drew $15,000 a year as treasurer of the Democratic National Committee and shortly before his death received a strictly political appointment as a front man for the liquor interests at $100,000 a year, including the income tax.

If we have come to the point, or depth, or believing that such conduct is consistent with the honor and dignity of the presidency, then we have descended far from the ethical level expressed by President Roosevelt himself, when, as governor, her said with that scorn which no one can give voice to more eloquently than he. “What of a public official who allows a member of his family to obtain fees and benefits through his political influence?”

(Source: Google News,