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. supports no one

    i totally agree with edwards!

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

    What bothers me most about Obama's statement was NOT his remarks about Reagan, but his remarks about Bill Clinton. If any president in the past 50 years put our country on a positive "projectory," it was Bill Clinton, who built our economy, upheld civil rights, and improved our status in the world. I feel that Obama has no respect for Clinton's legacy. It was a careless and insulting comment.

    January 18, 2008 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  3. CARMEN, Los Angeles


    January 18, 2008 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  4. Larry

    You spelled Hitler, Reagan, and Nixon wrong genius.. Besides Hitler was a leftist/liberal. Nazi was the shortend name for the National Socialists. They were communists that did not want to answer to Moscow, rather they wanted to answer to themselves, hence the National part of the name.

    January 18, 2008 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  5. Jonathan Simeone Seattle, Wa

    I don't believe that all Republicans are terrible people, but I strongly believe that, for the average American, Reagan was a terrible president. While uniting the country is, at its core, a good idea it takes people from all groups to want to be united. Have any of you Obama supporters noticed that most Republicans don't want to be united? Also, you should consider that the only way you keep a huge united group together is through centrist compromises. Do you liberals and progressives really want to elect a president who's more interested in compromise than pushing a progressive agenda? It's time to move our country in a progressive direction–not to slowly crawl there through the window of a small centrist policies.

    January 18, 2008 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  6. BABucher, NYC

    Um, people, Reagan unseated a sitting incumbant, then won in a landslide 4 years later. If that's not a sign of where the country wanted to go, I don' t know what is.

    Further, Obama never made a value judgment, just an observation.

    Frankly, I don't see this as much different than the LBJ/MLK flare up.

    Chill out.

    January 18, 2008 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  7. veto longwene

    Reagan was a great president who not only believed in, but promoted American "exceptionalism". This is a form of patriotism which allows free humans to be proud of their country, responsible for themselves and their families, and contribute to solutions which benefit everyone. (Too bad nobody is promoting this today!)

    From a historical viewpoint, BHO was essentially correct.

    Its not like the mentality of the left – "The government will solve all your problems". The left are chomping at the bit to establish generations of dependent, non-thinking dolts who can't do anything on their own and run around with their hands out (and always vote democrat).

    It seems like all the candidates (except a couple) believe in bigger government, more entitlements, and socialism in general. If allowed, this will lead to the demise of America as we know it – higher interest rates, more taxes, a substantial loss of liberties, and a loss of credibility in the global market place.

    What i do find amusing is the dirty politics between the dem front runners. I hope they take each other out – or at least expose themselves for the power-hungry phony Americans they really are!


    Fred for the White House
    (take Bam Bam with you!!!)

    January 18, 2008 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  8. Greg in OH


    Won't you actually listen to the whole 49 minute, instead of just blindly say what others tell you. Please research first.

    How about reading Obama's 65 page plan for change. He does have a plan, you just won't listen to it.

    January 18, 2008 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  9. doro, USA

    Obama stated a fact: that Reagan changed the trajectory of America.

    Obama gave neither an analysis nor an opinion on this fact.

    Did anyone ask him why he brought this up? We need to hear Obama's explanation before we thump him for merely stating the truth.

    There's lots to admire about John Edwards and his voice is significant in this campaign. He just got a bit carried away in this instance. He's human and campaigns are grueling.

    Obama is comfortable looking at people, policies and issues from many different angles; how refreshing.

    January 18, 2008 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  10. Sal......Illinois

    obama promised us change in Illinois when we sent him to Washington......he owes it to his constituants to do the job that we sent him to do first before he jumps on to something much bigger as the presidency....I am amazed at the arguments coming from shallow Obama supporters......what a goof up on his part to even mention Regan's name in a democtratic primary.....I think that just about dooms him or any chance he had before for the nomination......Go hillary

    January 18, 2008 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  11. mary r

    John Edwards made a mistake by trampling on Ronald Reagan.
    Does he not remember the first day Regan was in the White house? The Iranians returned captured Americans that day. Compared to the damage done by Pres. Carter the years before , it is obvious John Edwards has on blinders.
    Obama should use Reagan as an example of change and in doing so makes undecided Republicans look his way.
    Grow up Edwrads, your ranting has just cost you the presidency.

    January 18, 2008 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  12. elliott

    That sleeze Edwards could never be HALF the man that Ronnie was.

    January 18, 2008 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  13. veronica

    A really stupid move by Obama!

    January 18, 2008 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  14. jhooper

    It's dismaying to see (Ostensibly) Democrats calling each other names, and suggesting as one did that I'm a racist if I don't vote for Obama. I like Barack's inclusiveness and vision for a different America, and his impressive charisma and eloquence in articulating his plans for leadership. As another said, I will vote for the nominee, whomever it may be, as vastly superior to any choice on the Republican side. But while I agree with many that it doesn't necessarily imply endorsement of Reagan's ideals or policies, I nevertheless think the remarks are – as Edwards says – misplaced; especially made in a state with so many union members, whom Reagan regarded as expendable serfs. It troubles me that Obama would make what to me is a bad judgement call in making these remarks which seem to praise Reagan, since after all it is his decision-making and choice of things to talk about, that tend to define his candidacy in the absence of long legislative or executive experience. There are lots of things he could say to advance his cause, without implicitly giving credit to Reagan, someone who to me had no redeeming qualities; whether he was an agent of change or not.

    January 18, 2008 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  15. Warren

    I'm a lifetime Democrat - Obama is exactly right about Reagan. "It's NOT the economy stupid - it's about HOPE." The economy is just part of a much larger public depression. Further, it's not about Democrats or Republicans - it's about our country. Obama / Bloomberg '08 as Independents?

    January 18, 2008 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  16. Sue

    I left the G.O.P. and became a Democrat, the day after Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy for President.
    I saw that he would change our country, and not for the better, and I wanted no part of it., or the party he represented.
    Shame on anyone who will vote for Obama because he promises to make Reaganesque changes.
    Maybe he is running on the wrong ticket.
    He sure compares himself to others, but this takes the cake.
    I know about JFK, and Martin Luther King, and Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan. What the did. What he can't tell me is who he genuinely is.

    January 18, 2008 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  17. Tom Edwards Spring Hill Fl

    I remember Reagan as a B actor , host of Death Valley Days ( which he led us into undauntingly) a very very wealthy capitalist , that though he once helped form , and headed the Actors Union , destroyed the Air Traffic Controllers Union , not over money but safety regulations. He de-regulated everything . Turned one job into two by cutting the work hours and benefits. Took away every tax write-off the middleclass had , including the cost of using your car to go to work when public transportation was not available ( which today with the gas prices would be a blessing for the workers) , and interest debt due to crediot cards. He raised the taxes for the middle class while giving he wealthiest and corporations lower brackets. He immediately through hoards of deserving people off Soc Sec disability ,of which all were re-stated later by Judges. He gave tons of money to the Armament makers . Was treasonous to Congress and the Constitution by giving money to the Sandinistas in defiance of federal Law. Gave weapons to the enemy –said no – then said oops sorry. Lied to the people. Lied to Congress. Shamed the real Gipper!!!! Knute Rochne would have despised him . All of this and he started the Medical mess of today , again , not for the wealthy , only for the workers. He was a totalitarian , elitist fascist with a lot of slick charm. Enough to put Slick Willy under the table. Feigned not being able to hear and being a leader.

    January 18, 2008 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  18. CDM 45409

    I have had enough of old white men from affluent families running the country and doing what is best for their country club buddies. I don't think our country could be in any worse shape. Wake up people. Before you dismiss candidates check out selectsmart.com orontheissues.org, How about reading the entire transcript the select sound byte comes from... Wait there's idea!! Here is another, do away with the Electoral College and the Caucus, I am sure Bill Gates can make a program to count EVERY vote.

    January 18, 2008 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  19. jyfranca

    This proves Democrats do not want to unite the country i dont see the problem for obama to use reagan after all reagan was great and he got lots of votes from democrats.From today i do not like anymore edward he is divider

    January 18, 2008 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  20. land of lakes

    I wish the press would start reporting whole stores instead of sound bites, excerpts from speeches taken out of context and then provide their comments, which are filled with bias. I watch CNN, FOX, and MSNBC and read the New York Times. All the media are doing a terrible job of reporting. There is bias all over the place. If it's not Chris Matthews, it's Shawn Hannity or Carl Bernstein. Just let the candidates run and let the people make up their own minds; stop sensationalizing everything; blowing it out of proportion. There is nothing more infuriating then having the media tell the voter what they think and where things are headed as if everything's been decided.

    January 18, 2008 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  21. Loyd

     Obama's what this country needs. He was only pointing to the changes Reagan made politically and maybe even wordly... after all Reagan did help end the Cold War. He did lots of damage to the economy... Obama was only focusing on the good and the change that Reagan created though. Honestly the guy continues to impress me. I really hope the majority of Democrats can see the huge potential he has to be a really, REALLY good president. If for some reason Clinton wins this primary though, I'll be voting Republican for the first time ever. I may be a Democrat. But, I aint ready to se Hillary Clinton running this country. No way. I'd vote for Huckabee, Mcain, or Romney before I'd vote for her... If for some reason Giuliani won the republican side and she won the democratic, I'd just not vote... I'd vote for whoever runs as independant. They're both awful.

    January 18, 2008 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  22. Jr., California

    To John,

    Comments like yours only make the support for Obama stronger. Thanks, keep a postin' away.

    Oh yeah before I forget, I would guess that you're a Hillary supporter so I am calling you out. I would like you to factually detail her 35 years of experience.

    If you can do this, I will cast my support and vote for her. Please respond. I'm watching.

    January 18, 2008 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  23. Tom - Dedham, Mass

    Kim, Sacramento, CA, I did the same deal except I joined the Navy.

    After the Carter diplomacy and foreign relations fiascos we INDEED needed a leader and not some pantywaste liberal in office in 1980.

    Reagan for all his faults made it good to be a "proud American" again.

    I consider Mr Reagan a great President for those times and I was proud to say I served under him while he was commander and chief.


    BamaMAMA January 18, 2008 1:10 pm ET

    It's funny how all you whites are so for Obama. You will now be the minority now.


    Not sure how you can tell how people are white or black on a blog, but if it means that we don't want business as usual and can write coherent sentences, yeah, I am white and I RESPECT Obama, so WHAT.

    January 18, 2008 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  24. The Great William Wallace is Ten Feet Tall!

    Lefties can bash Reagan all they want, but just make sure you don't do it with your mouth full.

    Did you enjoy "Clinton's economy" of the mid 1990s? If so, you can thank Reagan and those awful tax cuts that allowed tax payers to actually keep a little more of what they (not the government) earned.

    You see folks, taxes are not the government's money. Taxes are YOUR money, MY money and the next guy's money. The government just takes it upon itself to insert their greedy little fingers into what YOU have earned.

    Was the government away from it's kids 8, 10, or 12 hours a day while earning that money? No. But you were.

    It's your money folks. If you choose to be a slave and work to feed the ever-growing Washington Tax Monster, by all means, be my guest. I however think that I and I alone should say how I spend my money, or even if I spend my money at all. This is what Reagan believed, too.

    Obama's desire to reinstate anything resembling the obscene and near criminal tax rates of Jimmy Carter's era is another example, proving he is not in any way, shape or form like Ronald Reagan.

    January 18, 2008 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  25. L-Mani S. Viney

    Now im starting to see why we rank so low in education for first world countries.
    Those of you criticizing Obama's comments please tell me exactly what he said and then tell me why he was wrong.

    I feel bad for Obama because I honestly think that he believes all Americans are intelligent and that Americans can handle an in-depth and thought provoking discussion. Unfortunately, it looks like we are proving him wrong. That all we are are individuals that comfort ourselves in the superificial pandering that got our country into the problems we're in in the first place.

    So to all my Clinton's and Edwards and whomever else. I challenge you to use your brain and tell me exactly HOW Obama Praised Regan. What did he say specifically about Regan? Tell me in full details and be sure to include quotes.

    if you can't do that, then please just be quiet

    L-Mani S. Viney

    January 18, 2008 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
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