January 18th, 2008
04:01 PM ET
10 years ago

Obama criticized for Reagan reference

President Reagan is causing a debate in the Democratic presidential race. (Photo Credit: Getty Images/AFP)

(CNN) - Republican presidential candidates often battle to outdo each other on who can invoke Ronald Reagan most often - but the former president's name is not nearly as welcome on the Democratic side.

Campaigning in union-heavy Nevada Thursday, John Edwards took direct aim at Barack Obama for "using Ronald Reagan as an example of change," and said he himself would never praise the Republican icon that way.

β€œHe was openly - openly - intolerant of unions and the right to organize. He openly fought against the union and the organized labor movement in this country," Edwards said during a campaign event in Henderson, Nevada. "He openly did extraordinary damage to the middle class and working people, created a tax structure that favored the very wealthiest Americans and caused the middle class and working people to struggle every single day. The destruction of the environment, you know, eliminating regulation of companies that were polluting and doing extraordinary damage to the environment.”

β€œI can promise you this: this president will never use Ronald Reagan as an example for change," he added.

Obama told the editorial board of the Reno-Journal Gazette Monday he didn't view himself as the transformative figure Ronald Reagan was.

"I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not," Obama said. "He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing."

Obama's campaign has said the Illinois senator disagrees with much of what Reagan did, and he was merely pointing out that the former president changed the political landscape.

Edwards' comments come as he battles to win support from union members in Nevada who will heavily influence the Democratic caucuses this Saturday. Recent polls suggest all three Democrats are in a tight race there.

While Reagan had a rocky relationship at best with the major unions during his presidency, he once actually led a union himself. The onetime actor was the president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1947-52 and again in 1959.

- CNN Ticker Producer Alexander Mooney

Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama • John Edwards • Nevada
soundoff (654 Responses)
  1. Mark C. Eades

    For Democrats, Obama is the Candidate of Confidence, Clinton the Candidate of Fear

    As Democrats debate on this campaign and on the future of our party, the tone among Clinton supporters has come to differ sharply from that of Obama supporters. While Obama supporters exude confidence, excitement, and the will to win, Clinton supporters seem increasingly defensive; increasingly gripped by the fear that, in debating as we are now, we are fragmenting the party and playing into the hands of the Republicans. Clinton supporters cast Obama as a dangerous interloper who threatens to rip the Democratic Party apart, as an irresponsible dreamer, as a pied piper who is leading the children away to certain disaster. His supporters are cast as misguided idealists, as starry-eyed adolescents who need to give up their "false hopes" of something better than politics as usual and face dull, mediocre "reality." Surely our unruly behavior is already putting the Democratic campaign at serious risk. Surely even now the Republicans must be watching and grinning as we divide so that they can conquer. "Shhhh...," we are told by Clintonistas, "Be careful what you say.... The Republicans are licking their lips right now."

    I say if they're licking their lips now they'll be eating crow come November. For any Republican who might be tempted to put tongue to lip, think again: I and other Obama supporters will vote for Hillary Clinton in November if she wins the Democratic nomination, as I should expect Clinton supporters will do in kind if Obama is the nominee, because we intend to win. The United States and the world can't stand another four-to-eight years of Republican insanity. Hillary Clinton is not my first choice among Democrats, but she beats any Republican by far. In the meantime, let the debate continue: Debate is, after all, the essence of that clever little Greek idea for which our party is named. We have the advantage; we can afford a healthy debate. With a field of candidates such as ours compared to the assortment of flawed specimens running for the Republican nomination, and with our enthusiasm compared to the mood of bitterness and gloom among Republicans, I'd say it is we Democrats who should be licking our lips.

    January 18, 2008 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  2. Saddam Hussein, Hell

    I talked to Reagan few minutes ago, he really regrets stepping on the unions and middle class people now.

    January 18, 2008 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  3. Raymond

    Go Edwards!!! How can NObama compare himself to Regan and then want Union's to back him?

    January 18, 2008 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  4. Gobama

    Obama is right!

    Edwards is wrong, and demonstrates his fundamental flaw - one negative track mind!

    Reagan was a mixed bag, as EVERY human is!

    Reagan, like any other human, was AN INDIVIDUAL OF MANY QUALITIES - some good, some bad.

    It's not a crime to admire in people those qualities that are good!
    And this admiration of their good does not mean that you must simultaneously admire the bad in the individual.

    January 18, 2008 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  5. E in Germany

    Hi folks!

    Before we see the "Tell me what Obama's plans are!" posts, just to save bandwidth, here's the address for the full PDF of Mr. Barack Obamas policies handbook:

    www . barackobama . com/pdf/ObamaBlueprintForChange.pdf

    Or, check out his "Audacity of Hope" book from Amazon or a library. It's all there in ink. If you still have questions, give a precinct captain a call, and they'll do their best to help answer any questions.

    Hopefully people see this message, since these posts unfortunately tend to be thrown into a "rant session" void.

    Just trying to save people time from typing the same questions πŸ™‚

    January 18, 2008 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  6. Bob, Seattle

    Labor unions were, at one time, very helpful in lifting up the worker and bringing fair conditions to the workplace. But like so many other 'organizations' the unions have grown major league corrupt, top heavy to the max, while taking extreme advantage of the worker they propose to protect. Just ask most union members how they faired in the retirement accounts and how their families faired when that worker died early. The unions serve now mostly to line the pockets of the leaders of the unions. As usual, the worker bears the brunt. Businesses are very competitive in trying to attract quality workers which are scarce. The important thing to remember is as God says – No work – No food. Anybody who wants to give a good day's work can earn a good day's salary in America. That is why so many folks are trying to get IN to America. Just don't see too many folks trying to LEAVE.

    January 18, 2008 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  7. Jeff;South Carolina

    I agree with what Obama said. Edwards just seems like he is taking it as a I LOVE RONALD Reagan quote and not actually paying attention to what was said.
    I'm a registered republican in south carolina. I'm not sure who I will vote for yet but yeah Reagan did make the country change paths.

    January 18, 2008 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  8. Jim R

    Edwards is desperate. He is also the biggest hypocrite running for the Oval Office.

    January 18, 2008 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  9. Another Steve

    Being an independent that supports Obama, I gotta agree with Edwards, the R word should have been avoided. Many list the Bush -Clinton-Bush legacy of this country , but fail to add that the first Bush 41 was no more than a third term of Regean. It should have been avoided much as returning the Clintons now, it's just not good for the country.

    January 18, 2008 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  10. Ginny CA

    If Obama was just pointing out that Reagan changed the political landscape, why did he even bring it up? What does Reagan changing the political landscape have to do with our nation today and the grave challenges we face? If Obama is trying to say HE can change the political landscape, then he should just explain exactly how he'll set about doing it and we'll figure out the rest. And, by the way, change for change's sake is not always good. Another thing, it was really, really stupid for him to liken himself in ANY way to Reagan. Too many of us Democrats remember how hard those Reagan years were and find nothing about the man attractive. I think this might have been just another example of Obama opening his mouth and shoving both feet in.

    January 18, 2008 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  11. opinion25222

    I love Obama. Time and time again we see him trying to unite instead of divide. Just because you are a democrat doesn't mean you have to hate all republicans.

    I think it's a wonderful thing when you can point out something good in a field of bad.

    Good for you Obama.

    January 18, 2008 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  12. ACE, Denver

    I'm an Obama supporter and Ronald Reagan wasn't one of my favorite presidents either, however, this is just another example of how party lines don't blind Barack Obama. If he sees an admirable quality in someone that's of another party, why can't he acknowledge that positive element? Oh, I forgot, because republicans are horrible people and not one republican president has ever offered anything positive to our nation...RIGHT...That's ridiculous and that just goes to show how divided our country is, so that a democrat can NEVER draw ANY comparisons to a republican or else he is completely out of line and out of touch with our party. It's us versus them, right?

    Please, Senator Obama, gain the nomination and win the presidency so the American people can begin to heal and break down the barriers that seem to prevent us from making any progress.

    January 18, 2008 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  13. Dan, NJ

    I hope Edwards is smarter than that. Obama was not making policy comparisons. He was making a leadership comparison. Not to mention Regan was re-elected in a landslide.

    January 18, 2008 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  14. joe


    January 18, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  15. Gbryant

    Ha. Way to go Obama. Any democrat who praises Reagan should be watched carefully. What is all the change about, if he wants to bring up people from the past?

    Go Hillary.

    January 18, 2008 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  16. Mike, Conway, AR

    It seems like this is similar to the controversy over Hillary's MLK/LBJ comments. While they may be true, it's still offensive to Democrats to point out anything positive about Reagan, just as it was offensive to point out anything negative about MLK.

    January 18, 2008 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  17. Greg in OH

    Plus it was a quote from a 49 minute interview

    January 18, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  18. David, Dallas Tx

    Did Obama say he admired Reagan's anti-labor efforts? Did Obama say he admired Reagan's tax policies?


    Edwards' comments are so much fluff, designed to distract and misdirect.

    I don't want another politician who refuses to see the opposite party except in black and white, do not touch terms. I don't want a president who engages in misdirection to score political points.

    I want a leader who tells it like it is, is adult enough to admit mistakes, and who will reach out across the aisle to work with the other party, and heal the damage Republican divisive tactics have wrought on our fine nation.

    That's why Obama has my vote.

    January 18, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  19. Wallace

    Before the Hill Force 1 supporters' plane boards, please read Obama's quote.

    He simply said that Reagan changed the trajectory of America.

    He didn't praise Reagan for his policies. He didn't agree with his stance on unions. He simply let people know that the 1980 election changed the course of America... which it did.

    Just because he is a Democrat, he can't recognize a Republican? And then we wonder why Senior Senators and folks from "both sides of the aisle" are endorsing him instead of Clinton and Edwards.

    Hill Force 1 passengers,
    There is no need to get emotional. It's just a statement involving the obvious.

    January 18, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  20. Nana

    what is wrong with praising reagan?

    January 18, 2008 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  21. Ant in Texas

    Obama stated that Reagan changed the direction of American politics, he didn't praise him...he stated that Reagan heard the American people...of course, they were conservative, rich and Republican, but no one can debate that he began the shift from Democratic to Republican, the so called Conservative Right, heard him loud and clear and Democrats tired of the Clinton Que heard him...heck even the Bushes ran on that concept and look what we ended up with. A trashed America, less rights, more danger, more hated, higher spending, lower wages and jobs leaving the country quicker then our Armed Forces (protect Iraq, who cares about defending America)

    The Clintons will test the water on anything stated and see whats sticks. And John Edwards will speak on anything because if an Edwards falls in the woods will anyone hear it? He's the third wheel on a date...useless!!!

    January 18, 2008 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  22. Progressive in the Heartland

    Thank you, John Edwards! I am looking for a progressive President, not one who spouts a lot of inflated middle-of- the-road rhetoric, least of all about how Reagan led America where it wanted to go. What a lot of baloney! Obama needed to study the past few decades in America and get his brain together before he ran for President. I simply do not understand how Obama's gauzy rhetoric has mezmerized a big chunk of America!

    January 18, 2008 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  23. Scott, Madison, WI

    John Edwards and everyone else:

    Breathe, relax, take your nervous pills ...

    The point of the quote he made about Reagan was that he was able to capture a moment and history and create a movement. Like Reagan or not – and I didn't – he did for better or worse, create a change in the political landscape. That's about all. Nothing more nothing less. Didn't say he agreed with his politics. Didn't say he admired him as a president. Didn't embrace his economic policies. Didn't smear and slime him (like some politicians we just happen to know too well in this current campaign) even though it's clear he doesn't agree with everything Reagan stood for.

    I happen to find that kind of perspective rather refreshing, but unfortunately for some, it takes some critical thinking skills to see the point beyond the spin. I find it to be a nice change from the slash-and-burn, win-at-any-cost politics of personal destruction that the Clinton's have patented and paid for. They embody cynicism and corruption. This country deserves much better than that stale, old dog and pony show.

    January 18, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  24. Brendan H., San Antonio, TX

    Ronald Reagan did for unions what Joe Hazelwood did for inland waterway navigation skills!!!

    January 18, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  25. richie, Michigan

    Is this an Obama race? it seems like no one has the guts to say anything but wait for Obama to speak so that you can respond and you dare complain the the media is not covering your campaign?! Tell us something original and you will be covered, the American electorate do not need your interpretation, they are smart enough to know what Obama said, so Hillary/Edwards be original or shut up.

    January 18, 2008 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
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