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. Omar Norfolk VA

    This shows a politician that is not blindly tied to party lines. A uniter. Folks get your heads out of a pure party mind-set. That is how that idiot Bush was elected.. Hillary is not electable, plain and simple. If she is nominated the GOP base will be energized like never before to ensure another Clinton is NEVER in the White House again. Edwards is a whiny has been.

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

    Hear that sound? It's the sound of votes falling away from Obama for making his comments in praise for Reagan!

    January 18, 2008 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |

    In his response, John Edwards simply elucidated precisely why we should pray he never gets elected. Just what we need, another left leaning, pro plaintiff, litigation monger.

    January 18, 2008 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  4. Mary

    You all must read what Senator Obama
    said, Reagan changed the course of the country.
    He didn't say it was good or bad, but yes Reagan did change the course, he broke the unions, closed the mental health institutions all under the watchful eye of the democrats in Congress. This is why we need someone like Obama in the oval office, he will actually tell the truth. Please, no more Clintons in the White House

    January 18, 2008 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  5. jk

    Hey Lemons from Arkansas, you're on here again spouting the same garbage about Obama being a junior senator (Um...so is Hillary). Oh, and of course you bring up, yet again, your opinion that Obama doesn't have a plan. Wow, we're heading into the Nevada primary and you still haven't read up on Obama. I guess you haven't visited his website because his agenda, proposals and plans for America are all spelled out for you. Obama's website is not much different from Clintons, Edwards, McCain, Romney, etc. It clearly draws out his plans for change. You simply assume that anyone supporting Obama must be naive which is a rather sad generalization. I feel sorry for you, I really do. You are the type of person that needs his news spoon fed to him in soundbytes so that he can regurgitate them on a blog or comment board making a feable attempt to sound informed. Look, I don't care who you support, but at least have your facts straight before you attempt to make generalizations.

    January 18, 2008 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  6. Terry, El Paso, TX


    Do you think that all Americans were hoping someone like you would insert yet another cheap shot to this struggling conversation? The purpose of conversing with our fellow citizens is to understand how they feel and think. For you and your type to holler obscenities over the fence at each other.

    January 18, 2008 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  7. Sharon, Philadelphia, Pa

    Every person who agrees with John Edwards must have difficulity with comprehension, or dificulity with procesing what they hear or are just have low IQ's. Obama said the Regan's administration bought about a speedy, quick, long reaching CHANGE for America that took us in a different path. The senator did not say it was FOR THE BEST. He also went on to say the change Regan made was different from NIXON'S AND CLINTON'S. As these two president's terms were viewed as a change in the direction for America as well. Get it now? It was a comparison statement, NOT AN ENDORCEMENT. Trust me Edward's campaign has explained it to him as well and he is scratching his head as well.

    January 18, 2008 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  8. ed in S.C.

    I don't trust Obama anyone who actually listens to Edwards' speeches understand that he's the only one who can fix this great nation. Don't be sucked in to Obama's cult of personality.

    January 18, 2008 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  9. Dee

    ok, so obama does stand up about hilary in his vegas show, draws on the names of the past and his supporter's love him. nothing new there. we've had stand up comedians since the beginning of time and anyone can draw on a name from the past. it is beginning to seem that bill is right that the media and people don't use the same measure between the candidates. When hillary answers a question about MLK that is not diminishing at all but shows how to men came together to get the job done she's crusified, but when obama makes statements about a republican then he uniting the people. I'm really starting to believe it is a fairy tale. He takes shots at hilary as the D-Sen from Punjab and little is said but if anyone is critical of him his supporters, staff, go wild. What's up with that? if anyone has the guts to speak what' s on their mind hillary is blasted more than any candidate that's ever run for speaking her mind! Guts for obama ? maybe after he loses he can start a career in stand up!

    January 18, 2008 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  10. AJ

    Obama is clueless but correct here.

    Edwards is a bad person, a hypocrite, a failure and dangerous to the country. Anyone who likes him needs to get their head examined. When he drops out, he'll be doing America a favor.

    January 18, 2008 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  11. Chuck

    Wow, A lot of explaining by you Obama supporters here. Reagan is not the president we Dem’s like to compare ourselves too.
    He will need to apologize for his comments soon. Edwards and Hillary will not let this one go.

    January 18, 2008 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  12. bakum

    If all you do is read headlines and other people's commentaries how on earth can you make an even remotely informed decision? I wonder if the people who are complaining that Obama shouldn't have used the "R" word even know what he actually said? It doesn't seem like it. If this is you, then you deserve what you get out of politics, which is manipulation and a dieing middle class. I wish we could require not an ID to vote but some proof that the voter in question has been paying any kind of attention. Or perhaps there could be some kind of reading comprehension test. You could be given the few sentences Obama said about Reagan and then asked "what did Senator Obama mean by this?" If you answer anything close to "Obama said that Reagan was good" or "Obama said he agrees with Reagan's policies" or "Obama compared himself to Reagan" then you fail and don't get to vote.

    January 18, 2008 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  13. Sandra

    Reagan, MLK, JFK.... who else does this guy think he resembles...... hahahaha

    Preach about issues not about popular people... this is not a popularity contest.. it is a Presidential race.

    January 18, 2008 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  14. Diann

    CNN....this is NOT newsworthy and definitely is an indication of gross negligence in the headlines department.

    Any idiot who heard or read Obama's comments concerning Reagan would have agreed about what he was trying to say. Edward's is waaay off base. And CNN has created yet another false media circus based inaccurate claims.

    January 18, 2008 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  15. Kathy

    Reagan told Gorbachev , "tear down this wall" while here at home he was busy tearing down the unions along with the middle class.

    One didn't dare mention Jelly Beans in Daddy's house. He belonged to the carpenders union all his life.

    Just curious, Did the union busting maybe have something to do with union pension plans not being there for the members.

    Mr Edwards is already leading us in a new direction and 'thel' be no going back.

    I'll post this in Daddy's memory.

    January 18, 2008 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  16. Georgia

    OBAMA is a FRAUD!

    Anyone who supports Obama is delusional!!!

    Mess = more Mess if Obama takes office.

    God help us all!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 18, 2008 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  17. James R

    As a Canadian that has no due influence on the American political landscape, all I want to say is that having followed American politics for as many years as I have, I really do hope that all of you can make the right decision for your future in your up coming elections. If by chance it should mean that you should be willing to go with the tried and true style of back room dealings ( this would be in reference to the Clintons; yes you will be voting both of them in I am afraid) or attempt to give someone new the chance to either prove or disprove himself (totally wish that we could have someone with the hope and vision for our future like you have in Barack Obama), then you only have to realize that whatever the results are can be corrected in another 4 years if you are dissatisfied by them. I would say that you should maybe give the "new kid on the block" the chance to try to unite your nation! This is after all what you apparently need more than anything else these days.
    To all those that see this as a race between a man of color and a woman, do not let your decision be decided by how you will be making history by voting for one or the other. Look beyond, as well as inside the person when you vote!

    January 18, 2008 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  18. Jim

    I am stunned that Hillary and Edwards are still in this thing. In their most private moments, even they know Barack Obama is the right man for the job.

    January 18, 2008 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  19. Bukky, Balt MD

    Umm Obama is right. Regan was a hero to some but he didn't do s*@! for me. He was the devil to everyone that was not rich, white, and straight....

    Dont be blind... Thank you Obama for speaking up. YOU BETTER NOT RETRACT.

    January 18, 2008 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  20. Scott from Freehold

    This is so stupid!! Reagan WAS an agent of change and Obama acknowledged that. He never said he agreed with Reagan's policies, but only a fool would say that Reaganism did not usher in a change in the country toward Conservativism. That is what Obama meant. At no point did he praise Reagan or his policies.

    January 18, 2008 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  21. TJ

    First of all I think John Edwards is the only electable candidate for the democrats despite his lower popularity among the democratic party. I think to many people are getting caught up in the "popularity contest" instead of looking at what each candidate stands for and what the propose for the next 4 years. Honestly I dont think this country is ready for a woman or a minority president so hoe can we expect Hillary or Obama to win the presidency? especially since there are so many people even within the democratic party that hates Hillary. How can someone like that win?

    January 18, 2008 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  22. Vincent, Tamaqua, Pa

    so let me get this straight.

    Obama thinks he is MLK, JKF, and now Reagan?
    ...someone needs a reality check.

    Hillary 08!

    January 18, 2008 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  23. Ann

    Good god if people can’t understand what he (Obama) is saying I understand why we (America) is 18th in the world in education.. Clinton and Edwards supporters need to try Hooked on Phonics.

    January 18, 2008 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  24. Kathy

    Ol' Alzheimer's Reagan, sitting as a President with Alzheimer's. No wonder he did not remember any of the IRAN-CONTRA stuff, he was mentally unstable at that point!
    REAGAN WAS MENTALLY UNSTABLE!!!! Just like all the reTHUGlicans who resurect his name every chance they get!
    Export the farmers and keep the grain!!!!

    January 18, 2008 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  25. MT

    I have read many of your comments and realize that this country is divided. You all call yourselves Americans with human values but what I hear is hatre for your friends and family who may be either REP, DEM, or IND. You are reading into Obama's comments what fits your hatre needs. Continue your efforts to divide this country and we will be no better than the terrorists.

    January 18, 2008 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
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