Walter Cronkite's views on running for President

Can we take a hint? He can't run, but maybe we could find someone who would do it if we ask, someone who we most all could agree on.

Cronkite interviews high school students

The most trusted man in America, Walter Cronkite, will not run for President, he said, because he does not want to see a situation where people who have made their name as a television journalist use that as a platform to run for office:

(from Scholastic UPDATE; March 30, 1984)

Walter Cronkite:

What are your expectations about what you're going to be able to do as a citizen of this democracy once you're out of school?

David Steinglass:

I don't think I can do anything--I mean, in the sense of affecting the world. If I were to help anywhere, it would be in teaching. The way I see it, if you can help perhaps five or six people, then maybe they'd make a difference. It starts to increase geometrically the amount of people that are going to help. After a while, you do make a difference.

Rodney Brooks:

Why can't you be one of the five or six that you're talking about? The five of us sitting here are enough to start something.

Alison Eisinger:

There are things that we can do now. There are things we can do in 10 years. There are things we can do on our own or as part of a group.


Is there something you have in mind that teenagers could be doing if they have conviction and want to change something?

David Miller:

We have to choose the means with which we're going to fight the things that we don't believe in, and decide the things that we do believe in. It's important to be clear on exactly what you want to accomplish. You may not be able to live to see the change you intended, but if you set out in that direction, you've done a great deal.


You talked about teaching as a way of influencing future generations, and that's an admirable thing. But you seemed a little pessimistic. Do you feel that democracy is not working?


I think it has failed in some ways. The Presidential elections are the perfect example. I mean, a poor man cannot be President, no matter how great he is as a candidate. You're not going to be President if you can't afford television time. if you run for President, you should get some sort of exposure given to you by the country if you can prove yourself.


We all realize there are severe limitations. But once a person has emerged into light, I'm not sure that you're right, that they need to have a lot of money.


Well, the less money you have, the more pandering you have to do to special interest groups to get money.


That's the nature of the beast in a way. Democracy promotes special interests.


I'd like to turn around the question that you put me on the hot spot with. Don't you think if you ran for President, you could make a difference?


Anybody who is elected President is going to make a difference if they've got any ideas at all. But there's a very important reason why I should not run for office. Through all my years of being a journalist, I've tried to not express my personal opinions. The great mass of people don't know what it is I specifically stand for in the sense of programs. When I came out with those programs, that great trust factor would suddenly dribble away. But the greater reason why I would not stand for office is that I would hate to see a situation in which people who have made their name as television journalists use that as a platform to run for office. What then happens is that all journalist on television would be suspect in their reporting. [People would think] they were trying not to report the news but to build a platform for future runs for office.


People would think that of you?


I'm afraid they would. And if there's anything that's likely to strike at the people's belief in the integrity of journalists, I don't want to see it happen.


More than two years after this conversation, Cronkite put out a survey, ("not a scientific survey... this is my survey"), where he asked a thousand people from 'Who's Who in America' who they thought, aside from those thought to be running, who they thought might make a good President. I think we could take a hint: He will not run, but would do it if we ask. He is available. He likes the idea of opening up the process a bit, so that more people are considered for the office, beyond that group which would promote themselves.

Cronkite Links

Walter Cronkite at Large
September 21, 1986

101 Candidates

Cronkite: Some years ago a political expert calculated that, when it came to choosing a candidate for President, if you narrowed down the list on the basis of non-electability, eliminating certain people because of their age or race or sex or religion, ethnic background, education, public job experience, appearance, wealth, regionality, personality, so on, that in the entire United States you'd end up with just 24 persons who might have a chance at getting elected President. Well, we're still more than two years away from electing our next President and the jockeying for nomination has begun. And indeed, it seems the same 24 names or so keep coming up.

In an effort to inject some new possibilities into public thought, I mailed a questionnaire to a thousand leading Americans whose names were taken at random from Who's Who. I asked them who they thought, other than the usually mentioned possibilities, among all of us Americans, in whatever walk of life, might make good Presidents. This was definitely not a scientific survey. It was my survey, an attempt to flush out some potential new candidates who might be unknown to the public at large. Surprisingly, there was better than a 40% response to our poll. But on the disappointing side, most of the names suggested were the familiar ones we see on the nightly news. Mario Cuomo led with 16%, George Bush had 14%, Chrysler president lee Iaococca had 11.75%, and Senator Robert Dole had 5.5%.

But we did get a lot of other suggestions of some people some other people think might make a good President....

Graham T. Allison
Dean, JFK School of Gov.

John Anderson
Fmr. Pres. Candidate

Gov. Bruce Babbitt

James Baker III
Sec. of the Treasury

William J. Bennett
Sec. of Education

Sen. Joseph Biden

Derek Bok
Pres., Harvard University

Sen Bill Bradley

William F. Buckley
Syndicated Columnist

Sen. Dale L. Bumpers

Helen Caldicott
Nuclear Freeze Activist

Jimmy Carter
Fmr. President

Hon. Warren Christopher
Fmr. Deputy Sec. of State

Hon. Henry G. Cisneros
Mayor, San Antonio, Texas

Charles Clemens
Ret. USAF Captain

Gov. Bill Clinton

John B. Connally
Fmr. Governor of Texas

Sen. Alan Cranston

Dr. Alonzo A. Cri
Supt., Atlanta School System

Walter Cronkite
CBS News

Elizabeth Danford Dole
Sec. of Transportation

Rev. Robert Drinan
Fmr. Congressman, MA

Gov. Michael S. Dukakis

Pierre S. DuPont, IV
Fmr. Gov., Del.

Freeman Dyson

Marian Wright Edelman
Pres., Children's Defense Fund

Benjamin B. Ewing
Environmental Engineer

Rev. Jerry Falwell
Liberty Federation

Rev. John Fife
Sanctuary Movement Activist

John W. Gardner
Fmr. Sec., HEW

David Gardner
Pres., Univ. of CA

A. Bartlett Giamatti
Fmr. Pres., Yale Univ.

Dizzy Gillespie
Composer, Musician

Gov. D. Robert Graham

Alexander Haig
Fmr. Sec. of State

Sen. Gary Hart

Jeffrey Hart
Ed., National Review

Sen. Mark Hatfield

Theodore M. Hesburgh
Pres., Univ. of Notre Dame

Hon. A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr.

Rev. Jesse Jackson
Fmr. Pres. Candidate

Barbara Jordan
Fmr. Rep., TX

Burrell Kaufman
Investment Broker

Rep. Jack F. Kemp

George Kennan
Fmr. US Amb. to Russia

Sen. Ted Kennedy

Jean J. Kirkpatrick
Fmr. US Amb. to UN

Hon. Ed Koch
Mayor, NY

Dr. C Everett Koop
U.S. Surgeon General

Gov. Richard Lamm

Sen. Paul Laxalt

Rep. James Leach

Msgr. William Linder
Priest, Newark Archdiocese

Sen. Charles Mathias

Eugene McCarthy
Fmr. Pres. Candidate

Rev. David McKenna
Pres., Asbury Theological Seminary

Dr. Bruce Merrifield
Undersecretary of Commerce

Sen. George J. Mitchell

Walter Mondale
Fmr. Vice-Pres., U.S.

Bill Moyers
CBS News

Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan

Paul Newman

Richard Nixon
Fmr. Pres., U.S.

Sen. Sam Nunn

Andrew O'Rourke
County Exec., Westchester, NY

H. Ross Perot

Robert D. Ray
Fmr. Gov., Iowa

Ronald Reagan
U.S. President

Dr. Frank H.T. Rhodes
Pres., Cornell Univ.

Elliot Richardson
Fmr. Amb.-at-Large

Jeremy Rifkin

Charles Robb
Fmr. Gov., VA

James Robinson, III
Chm, American Express

Donald Rumsfeld
Fmr. Sec. of Defense

Terry Sanford
Fmr. Gov., NC

Hon. William D. Schaefer
Mayor, Baltimore, MD

Benno Schmidt
Pres., Yale UNiv.

Harrison Schmitt
Fmr. Astronaut

George Shultz
Sec. of State

Dr. Harold Shapiro
Pres., Univ. of Mich.

Huge Sidey
Correspondent, TIME

Rep. Paul Simon

Adam Smith
Financial Writer

Michael Ira Sovern
Pres., Columbia Univ.

Margaret Thatcher
P.M., Great Britain

Dr. Lewis Thomas
Memorial Sloan Kettering

Gov. James Thompson

Stansfield Turner
Fmr. Dir., CIA

Peter Ueberroth
Baseball Commissioner

Melvin van Peebles
Author, Actor, Stockbroker

Paul C. Warnke
Chm., Comm. for Nat'l Security

William Webster
Dir., FBI

Sen. Lowell P. Weicker

Caspar W. Weinberger
Sec. of Defense

Chuck Yeager
USAF Test Pilot

Hon. Andrew Young
Mayor, Atlanta

Cronkite: And that's the way it is, when you turn Cronkite out at large.

Good night.


posted by John Champagne

I wonder if anyone bothered to ask the Electors this question. I didn't. I didn't even know who the Electors are until very recently, when I found names of Electors from the 1992 and 1996 elections posted at the Electoral College Home Page. (I didn't recognize any of the names of Electors from my state.) Well, Cronkite put the question out to anyone who was listening to 'Cronkite at Large'. I wonder if any Electors were listening. (There were links to that government web site that actually gave names, but they are not working now.)

I like this question. I wish we would hear it more often. I share it with anyone who will listen while in line at the grocery store or waiting at the bus stop. (Most people do listen, and many seem to like it as much as I do.) And I tell them who I stole it from. I think we deserve the better politics, the reduction in advertiser influence, that it might promote.

I wonder how many people who voted for Bill Clinton in the election past would have voted for 'None of the Above', if that option had been available on the ballot. Did anyone survey the voters to find out? I know that some were asked if they trusted Clinton or had reservations about voting for him. More than half said that they did not trust him, and a similar number said that they had reservations about voting for him.

When an election has half or more of the people not voting, and half or more of those who do vote are voting for someone other than the winner, and half or more of those who vote for the winner are saying that they have reservations, we can hardly say it has produced a mandate for anyone. Approximately 10% of the people voted for Clinton "without reservation" after hundreds of millions of dollars were spent to tell us that the election is important and that we should go vote. I cannot believe that this corporate-sponsored campaign really serves the long-term interests of the sponsoring corporations if it is instrumental in a further erosion of public confidance in the system that they rely on for their existance. We need to re-establish a sense of trust and integrity in our public institutions.

Perhaps it is time for the Electors to break with tradition and vote their conscience.

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John Champagne 1996

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