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. M. Lewis

    I agree with what another person just said, Obama does have the guts to say what he believes and everyone else just responds...

    January 18, 2008 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |


    January 18, 2008 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  3. Franky, New York, NY

    In addition to being too inexperienced to be President, Mr. Obama also needs to go back to History 101...nice guy, but not ready...

    January 18, 2008 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  4. Shane Australia


    You wanted to know what folk in other countries think.... I'm an Aussie and I think that Obama is exactly what your country needs now.

    He can speak in a full sentence for a start ! How you guys voted Bush in is truly questionable ? But then we had Howard for 10 years and he was just as disgraceful. But we got rid of him and his party here!

    I do have some questions about Obama is he going to end this kiss ass thing you guys do with the saudi's, Isreal and the like ? Is he going to end this support of nation like Pakastain ? Will he take America back to suporting real Democratic nations ? Will he end the death penalty which Australia NZ and all of the EU find absoultey deplorable ? I want to know if he think a President ever the right to lie to the American people ?

    Those questions aside I think he is smart and very human and the best person for now. Not in four or eight years time now!

    I think he would be the best person to rebuild the worlds trust in America's through words and actions and thats going to be a big hard job! Huge!

    I travel alot and most of the world hates you guys I mean really hates you all.

    Google "biggest threat to world peace" America comes up number one in every poll even in alied countries like my own!

    Ive been to the US and seen its soul...... I know that most people in America are good people! You have your problems like the rest of the world… The one that most struck me, is your problems with race!

    So if you can vote in a smart and capable guy who is also a black man then you guys are taking a giant (very long overdue) leap forward!

    I have to say before this primary thing started I liked the Clinton's but now I cant say that ! I think the way they have acted with all the lies and all the stunts....its really turned me off them.

    All the republicians are so much like Bush I hope no one votes republician this time but the Clinton's now seems just as bad ! The same old same old !

    When did Bill turn into such an angry grumpy old man ?

    The Clinton's need to realise that Obama is the competion not the enemy. I guess that what happen when your in politics for to long!

    I think there is something wrong if you guys vote in another Clinton !

    Im all for you guys having a woman leader I just think Hillary is the wrong one. You should have had several Females already by now and so should we ! We do have our first woman deputy PM (like your vice president) now I think she's is really good so much so, she should be our PM.

    Bush,Clinton,Bush,Clinton is no change at all ! The clinton have had there time and now its time for a new.

    While i liked Hillary and Bill before i think you all should thank Hillary for her 35 years (lol) of service and send her and Bill off as abasadors to Iraq she was part of the problem let her clean it up ! I also think you should send Bush and co to one of those CIA prisons for a few years and then see if they think its fair !

    While your asking can I say that it really is offensive to the rest of the world when you folk say...... the leader of the free world ! That thing was wrong from the start and stoped being anything near true when the wall came down!

    We dont vote your leaders they are not our leaders we vote our own! For a nation that believes in democarcy its really wierd that you guys say that ! We in other countries are free people!


    ps Regan did change the course of your country no arguement with that...... it was just he took you on a course in the wrong direction just like Thatcher did in the Uk !
    and Howard did with my country!

    January 18, 2008 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  5. Jim in Orlando, FL

    So, as a Republican, I am supposed to think that no Democrat president did a good job ? Are the partisan horse blinders so large and restrictive that it is only Democrats "good" and Republicans "bad". Thank God Obama is not bringing those blinders with him if elected. And frankly, this all just makes Edwards look more stupid and more desperate. Go back to being a repo man John.

    January 18, 2008 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  6. Mike, NY, New York

    The fact some of you will be voting in this upcoming election is frightening.

    Reading comprehension + common sense = informed decision.

    There was no praising of Reagan, merely a pointing out of a policy of change which Obama is also campaigning on. Obama will bring about positive change and does not share the same policies/ideals as Reagan.

    Plus anyone who votes along party lines for the sake of voting party lines is an idiot. These Republican candidates are atrocious and only Obama and Kusinich are legitimate leaders....

    Go Obama! (Republican voter)

    January 18, 2008 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  7. Dave M

    The thing about Reagan is that he "believed" in everything he spoke about. That's what made him the "Great Communicator", and a beloved President.

    Hillary believes in nothing, it just depends on which way the wind is blowing.

    Obama believes in some things, but honestly, "naive" is a pretty good term to describe him.

    Edwards is a pathetic, hypocritical, disgusting twerp, who's only rhetoric is class warfare.

    I seriously think that the Democrats have no shot at all in the election. All 3 are absolutely flawed candidates with little or no experience leading anything. America is not going to hike the terrorism/nuclear football to these wannabe's.

    January 18, 2008 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  8. stan pitts pa

    John January 18, 2008 2:03 pm ET

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

    everyone who supports obama is delusional

    hey john the font of your post screams DELUSIONAL! jeez get a life!

    January 18, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  9. LeeAnn N. Taylor, San Francisco, Ca

    Does Obama forget how hard the Reagan years were on black people? I hope we (black people) wake up and realize that Obama won't be doing us any favors if elected. He is disappointing me more and more as the campaign goes on and we find out more about him.

    January 18, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  10. rich

    Edwards the ambulance chaser doesn't know what he's talking about. Edwards is so darn power hungry, it is pathetic. He's pandering to the middle class when in actuality he is a mult-millionaire who made his fortune chasing ambulances. I am a lifelong democrat but would never vote for him.

    January 18, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  11. HopeNobama

    Democrats don't have to hate all republicans and vice-versa....what happened to judging people as INDIVIDUALS.

    Also with that said all Republicans are not bad politicians or evil people and vice versa.

    America....I'm shaking my head at a lot of you.

    January 18, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  12. Richard, St. Paul, MN

    Ronald Reagan was a drug-addled Alzheimer's victim during his presidential term. I'm always amused that the conservatives hold him in such high regard, but now that we've had Bush, I'm realizing that the Republicans have a good strategy by running drug addicts, alcoholics and low-IQ candidates, because they're easy to control.

    January 18, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |

    Predictions for 2008 presidential elections:

    If Hiliary nominee, she will loose general election.
    Republican win will probably be with McCain. Hiliary is unelectable. The women's movement is putting way to much push for an unelectable candidate.

    This will set up Obama to win in 2012. This is a sure thing. As the republicans will continue to drive the country into the gutter.

    If Obama wins nomination, he will win the general elections in November and serve for eight years.

    The republicans really want Hilliary to win nomination because they no she has no chance to win. But the pundits and talking head predict it's a sure thing, when it is in no way possible for her to win. To unlikeable. To much baggage.

    January 18, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  14. Will

    You folks who defend him because he didn't embrace Reagan, how do you interpret

    "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."

    as anything other than praise for the man? Would it have been so difficult for Obama to have actually said, "Hey, Reagan, I think he really changed things, even though I don't agree with most of his changes," instead of leaving it to his cult followers to divine that interpretation from his statement?

    January 18, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  15. Gobama

    The highly intelligent and highly educated President Obama MUST enact policies that will ensure that every American child travel his path to better education.

    A more educated populace will be LESS VULNERABLE to ignorance, rabble rousing and political spin.

    Having dummies like John Edwards with the narrow thinking as US Senator is shameful and problematic.

    Reagan did bring a sea change to America when there was much self-doubt following the Vietnam War defeat!

    Like Edwards, many wise minds did not care for the Reagan methods; because change for a nation can and should be more positive. However, there can be no denying that Reagan did represented change to the national psyche.

    Senator Obama is RUNNING AS AN AMERICAN first and foremost!

    And as an American, WE MUST ENDEAVOR TO SEE THE GOOD IN OTHER AMERICANS, even as we reject the bad in them.
    In many respects, Reagan was the devil incarnate, that was the reason he existed in limbo for a long time, not alive not dead!

    January 18, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  16. Bill in Paradise Utah

    Besides Edwards being an absolute fool there isn't anyone from either side that is what this country needs. Please, don't say Hillary or Rudi for America's sake take off the blinders and actually listen to them- Geeeesh.
    Kind a of like Don Rickles Tuesday night- "Is that your wife there ?" Geeeeeeeshhh!

    January 18, 2008 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  17. Ivan, Chicago, Illinois

    Mark my words, Obama will be the disaster that Carter was, effecting no only the country but as the Democratic Party was, resulting with 12 consecutive years of Republican's in the White House. Not only will the Republicans fight his agenda every step of the way, but even the Democrats in congress as they break up into their seperate cliques each with their hands out for their pot of the pie.
    Obama is too inexperiance at this time to be President.

    January 18, 2008 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  18. Shane Australia

    John you say:


    I ask " How so is it his 35 years experience ?"

    hmm....... John whos delusional ?

    January 18, 2008 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  19. Rupert Murdock

    Poor, poor Breck Boy Edwards.

    Just because you don't like it, Breck Boy, doesn't make it go away.

    January 18, 2008 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  20. Will you read me?

    I probably won't vote for a Democrat, but if I would, Obama just left a good impression on me.

    I'm for bipartisanship and this is, at least in words, a step in that direction.

    I typically vote Republican because of my beliefs, but I do like what I see so far from Obama.

    January 18, 2008 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  21. Mrjimbo, TX

    GO Mitt!!

    January 18, 2008 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  22. Glen, Boston, MA

    It's clear to most that Reagan was a horrible, horrible advocate for ecological devastation and childishly naive about the plight of the poor (remember when he was confused why they just didn't move out to the suburbs?)

    It's also clear that Reagan did fundamentally change the course of the country. He got a bloated government under control and played a key roll in ending the cold war without a single shot fired.

    For me, this comment turns me off to Edwards. He clearly cannot see beyond one worldview. He clearly cannot see nuance and is simply angry and negative.

    Obama, ever the open-minded ,once again invoked unity and saw across division. He also has a strong agenda for HOW to carry out the change he speaks of. He's winning me over.

    January 18, 2008 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  23. Troy-Boston

    I love the posters that explain (in their own version) what Obama meant by what he said. "Obama simply meant...", "Obama was not....." No! The truth is that Obama put Reagan and change in the same sentence. Yes, Reagan did bring change, but it was a negative change. Does Obama want to do the same thing? The truth is that Obama does not know what he wants, what kind of change he wants. He is like a small child that has learned a new word and uses it without relevance. Change! Change! Change! Ok, Mr. Obama, we get that, you want change, now why don't you tell us what kind of change, and how you are going to achieve this change. Please be specific, and try to keep the twitching to a minimum. America has proven again and again that it is a superpower, a world leader... why would you want to change that? Mr. Obama, what we need to do is go back and reclaim those superpower, and leadership qualities. S

    January 18, 2008 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  24. Nelson, Colorado Springs Co

    Mr Edward, fomer president Regan did change a lot thing in his time. maybe want to it frist. How can a person compare themself to some one that was president to someone that is running for president haven't sever a day in office

    January 18, 2008 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  25. Len

    John seems angry?? I guess I'm delusional

    January 18, 2008 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
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