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.

“He 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.”

“I 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. Dave

    John you are pandering and distorting Obama's remark's and it's gross. Let's talk about all the votes you are now appologizing for; Yucca Mountain, the 2001 BKY bill, the 2002 Iraq vote. And now we are hearing that you voted against abortion rights for military members twice?

    Do you have really bad judgment or are you just pandering to the Democratic base?

    January 18, 2008 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  2. Whitney

    I'm so sick of hearing "change" as the buzz word. What do you mean by change? Change isn't always good...Do you want to change the flag from red, white and blue to orange, green and purple? Because that's change, but it's not good. Why not talk about progress instead of always invoking the word change? It's become meaningless.

    January 18, 2008 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  3. lori, ann arbor

    tyler and sunnyday– thanks, why use reagan for any example -
    edwards has to get his name out there somehow, anyway, the media won't report anything he says if he sticks to straight business.. he is the best and the brightest candidate, i wish folks would go for less 'groundbreaking, history making' and stick to common sense. it isnt about race or gender, it is about who really can make a difference for us. edwards can do it! he can draw votes from the 'other side' and win in november. that is the bottom line fact.

    January 18, 2008 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  4. Jeff

    This kind of comment is EXACTLY what I admire about Obama – the ability to see and note the best anywhere, everywhere, to not be blinded by polarizing influences, to speak complex truth even if others will pull out sound bites to smear him.

    This is the mark of a leader, not of a politician. In everything he says and does, he is preparing this nation for a time of very different leadership than we have experienced for many, many years.

    January 18, 2008 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  5. One Comment, Jim Orlando, FL

    I am a life long DEM. I think people are being stupid over this.

    I think it is OK for me to say that I think John McCain was a hero for his military service, despite the fact I don't want him President. I don't agree with all his politics that drive people away from the process, but it is OK to praise things you feel are done right. There is no harm in it.

    At the time, I agree with Obama that Regan had the right views over government size at the time. The government was not handling itself properly and it was getting too big too fast and it was not accountable. Regan handled that issue correctly at the time to stop that over-expansion. Obama was not out of line to praise that aspect. He never said he wanted to be like Regan which is just a comment that a deperate candidate like Edwards would try to speak for him. I am not sure where Regan's union views came from which is not even the context of what Obama said. Shame on Edwards for putting words in his mouth and encouraging this partisanship within the party.

    This is why we will never get anything done in Washington because people get all squirrelly over stupid things and they create issues out of nothing. It shows Obama is above the curve and willing to handle poltics more like a professional.

    January 18, 2008 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  6. Ginger, Owensboro, KY

    How dare either of these candidate compare themselves to Ronald Reagan. Neither of them hold a even a flicker from a candle to him.

    January 18, 2008 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  7. Melissa

    Mark C. Eades, I completely agree with you comment, except for the fact that I am a Clinton supporter. As much as I want her to win the nomination, if the nominee is Barack Obama, I will stand by him 100% Getting any Democrat in the White House is what's really important.

    January 18, 2008 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  8. Sean Schubert Anchorage, Alaska

    Hallelujah Mr. Edwards. Your insight into the destructive nature of Reagan era politics and economics is why you are the absolute best candidate for the job of leading our nation. Americans, wake up and realize that we need a leader with the courage to lead. Anyone is better than what we have now, but Edwards offers the best options for the average American.

    January 18, 2008 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  9. S. Wright

    Obama is correct in saying that Reagan represented a change from what the country was engrossed in during the 60's and 70's. The Great Society did its damage, Nixon's wage and price controls made things worse, and Carter was a disaster with his Carter Doctrine and ineptitude in domestic affairs.

    Edwards is nothing more than a Henry A. Wallace progressive. The only difference is that Wallace was able to admit he'd been led down the garden path by "progressive" policies.

    Edwards isn't so smart.

    January 18, 2008 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  10. marv. g

    If you read the quote Obama wasn't praising Reagan, but still should have avoided the reference. That name will not conjure up any new democratic votes, let alone African American votes. The African American community referred to Reagan as the devil for many years and to think that Obama has forgotten that is troubling. Reagan wrecked the middle class and minority communities during his term. I still believe in Obama, and pray his speech writer is fired.

    January 18, 2008 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  11. Eric, from THE Republic of Texas

    Reagan was a seven-time re-elected President of the Screen Actors' Guild (SAG). He was a friggin UNION BOSS, for pete's sake. Reagan as the President of the United States was the best ally unions have ever had in the Oval Office.

    The fact is (listen up Senator Edwards): the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) union decided to strike even though it was ILLEGAL for them to do so.

    Under the Taft Hartley Act of 1947 {5 U.S.C. (Supp. III 1956) 118p.} , it is illegal for Government Unions to stike, and the executive branch of the federal government can intervene and obtain legal strikebreaking injunctions if an impending or current strike "imperiled the national health or safety." If you have no air traffic controllers, national security is at stake. You cannot launch AWACS planes (Airborne Warning and Control System or AWACS). And the network of American bombers ready to head for the Soviet Union at the hint of a nuclear attack depended on those controllers, too.

    The national security aspect of this is why critical federal employees like air-traffic controllers are not allowed to strike. In fact, every PATCO member had signed a sworn affidavit agreeing not to strike.

    Reagan recognized this for what it was and even offered to allow striking workers to return to their jobs no questions asked. When PATCO continued to break the law with their illegal strike, Reagan did what was necessary: he fired all 11,000 striking air traffic controllers and replaced them.

    Reagan did not break the PATCO union: PATCO broke itself.

    Obama has no business even comparing himself with Reagan. And Edwards rewriting history in order to bash Obama is even worse. Edwards needs to go back to chasing ambulances and putting decent healthcare professionals out of business. That, or shoot hoops in his 35,000 sq foot palacial mansion.

    January 18, 2008 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  12. Jay Graham, Dallas, TX

    Obama is bringing back the momories of Reagan to lure the republican voters to vote for him on a general election. By playing MLK and LBJ stakes, he has already captured black votes and lots of endorsements. And now republicans are going to have soft corner for him as they hate Clintons the day Bill assumed presidency in 92. Smart move by Obama, but will it work in Nov?

    January 18, 2008 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  13. Mario

    Don't worry about what Obama says, worry about Hitlery and her ideas of running a huge tax raised government that will be out of control and will have no accoutability that she already shows she has, she has no experience at all and she will tax the crap out of this country, hurt big business, hurt little business that depends some on big business, and destroy this country from within!

    Her and her goon squad can't wait to do this to this country, screw the people, let the illegals come in here to this country, reward them by making us pay for there every need, and screw this country to He–!

    Go Obama!
    Greg, your a loose cannon, edwards, indeed, you make me laugh you moron.

    January 18, 2008 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  14. Anonymous guy, Austin, TX

    I highly reccomend people who are so inclined to read Obama's book "Audacity of Hope" if you want to see how he feels about policy, republicans vs democrats, and how he takes examples not only from his own party but from the other one as to how to make changes in government.

    When republicans and democrats take "ownership" of issues and make a point of taking opposing stances on ALL issues, just for the sake of the argument, then progress halts.

    Obama is a breath of fresh air, and may get the wheels of Washington moving once again.

    January 18, 2008 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  15. Vumilio

    I'm a big Obama supporter... and even I was left dazed, confused, perplexed... and somewhat upset by Obama's reference to Ronald Reagan. How on EARTH does he expect to win a majority of the Black vote in SC comparing himself to Ronald Reagan?

    I mean... good grief... it says something when ALL races of people across the working & middle class hate you, and even coin a term (Reaganomics) for the horrible financial position you've put people in.

    I understand what he was trying to say (I guess)... but it was a dumb comment nonetheless.

    January 18, 2008 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |

    Oh Holy Obama...save us from those people who are really listening to what you say!!....

    January 18, 2008 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  17. John

    John Edwards and Hillary Clinton sound like they are really running for Chairman of the Democratic Party.

    Meanwhile, Barack Obama is running for president of the UNITED States of America.

    Barack doesn't see things in "red" or "blue." He sees things in "red, white and blue."

    January 18, 2008 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  18. M. Lewis

    Well, this shows that Obama is open to a wide range of ideas. He is not trapped by democratic ideology only. He can respect a past president even if that president was a republican. Edwards remark is not called for, he is putting his foot in his own mouth. I vote democratic for right now. However, every Amercian realizes that Reagan did have an impact politically in America in comparison to many of this century. So Edwards, you bringing up a dumb argument......

    January 18, 2008 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  19. A. Macaulay

    My one vote for a GOP Presidential Candidate (since eligible in 1964) was for Ronnie versus four more years of that nice guy Jimmy Carter–who did not have the foggiest idea of what he was doing.

    Reagan made a lot of folks feel good about this country and that we were capable once again of great things. Didn't agree with him on most things but he and Tip O'Neill always seem to come to some sort of an compromise on the issues. That was a monumental change like the one now offered by Barack and has been missing as we reverted to the good old ways. We need change again.

    Obama seems to offer that same hope while Mr. & Mrs. Clinton want to maintain the status quo. Time for a new era not unlike Reagan's Revolution which offered the Republicans and those of us on the other side willing to give him the benefit of any doubt a real reason for hope.

    Thanks Ronnie. Go Barack. Shake up the Party Establishment. And then shake us up by challenging us all to do things we never dreamed of!

    January 18, 2008 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  20. Lynn

    My husband and I watched and heard Obama's comments last night. I fully agreed with the comments because prior to Reagan, the Republicans had been a minority party for a very long time, even though they won some presidential elections during that time. Like it or not (and I hated it), Reagan created a new Republican majority that drew a lot of new people to the party.

    We then saw the comments from Edwards, and heard Keith Olbermann blasting Obama. At that point my husband said, "I think Obama is too intelligent and thoughtful for a lot of people to keep up with and understand him."

    I kind of think that's right. I initially flinched when I saw the story yesterday about Obama "praising" Reagan. But then I heard the actual comments and I fully agreed because history supports exactly what Obama said. Unfortunately, too many people will listen to what Edwards is saying or see stories headlined "Obama Praises Reagan," and either won't take the times to look into it themselves or won't understand even when they see it. It's really a shame. A guy like Obama comes along so rarely. I hate that his thoughtful comments are immediately turned into negative sound bites that are used to hurt him.

    January 18, 2008 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  21. dan, tx

    Obama supporters, get on the Obama web site and get involved in the campaign. You can make a difference by participating in recruiting efforts.

    January 18, 2008 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  22. David Grimesey

    Obama is right about Reagan. Many people heeded Reagans call to get involved with AMerica again and as a Democrat, I was one of those who listened. Do I disagree with most of what he said and his policies? Yes, but I will give the President his due for what he did do right.

    January 18, 2008 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  23. charlotte

    I have voted for a republician. But, the choice was Regan. Remember all of us cross over democrates? In retrospect I wish I hadn't. Remember when we could deduct the interest we paid on credit cards ,automobiles, etc. off our taxes? Guess which president got that taken away. Don't forget the 19% interest rate on a home loan. The president who taxed us the most, was none other than Ronnie. Not to mention Iran Contra, Regan probable didn"t recall this or that, but you can bet Bush Sr. did. Talk about lies,shredded documents, Oliver North and others.

    January 18, 2008 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  24. Dave

    Listen, I disliked Reagan as much as the next lefty, but Obama was talking about his and Reagan's ability to make the Country feel good about itself again. No matter what your views of Reagan's political positions you can not deny his ability to unite a good majority of the Country behind him to create a movement. With Obama we have the chance to do the same thing except this time with a progressive agenda as oppsed to Reagan's conservative one.

    10 years from now we could be talking about "Obama Republican's' instead of 'Reagan Democrats' as the swing constituancy in American politics. Edwards or Clinton could both possibly win the election but neither has the ability to unite this Country behind a movement like Obama. 'Edwards Republican's' or 'Clinton Republican's'? I don't think so.

    January 18, 2008 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  25. John

    OBAMA IS A FRAUD!!!!!!!!!

    everyone who supports obama is delusional

    January 18, 2008 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
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