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. Rosa Birmingham, AL

    Looks like Obabm doesn't remember how bad things really were when Regan was in power. No one under 40 will remember either so this issue is not going to change any minds. Move on to the next thing.

    January 18, 2008 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  2. John

    I think that Obama was right in trying to make his point on how Reagan was a part of that main change in the political landscape, Reagan and his years weren't so good to the US, but he did have his times to where he was effective, and during all his presidency he wasn't bad, but then agaian he wasn't the model of good morale values, as you saw the "gap" between the rich and the nameless. Obama was right is his own to make that call, Edwards is trying to put himself in a better standings becuase he hasn't succedded in any of the caucus'. This should get interesting down the line before the convention is held.

    January 18, 2008 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  3. JC, Topeka, Kansas

    Now that we have witnessed Obama's total knowledge of political history, perhaps he shall become history.

    January 18, 2008 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  4. Democratic Texas Vet

    All he said was Reagan was an agent of change... he didn't say that he liked or agreed with the changes. He simply called a ball a ball and a strike a strike.

    We need an agent of change ( like Reagan) to appear again.. but this "agent " needs to spur change in the opposite direction which would be a direction that places power back into the hands of the people and not corporate lobbyists.

    Obama was right, it was what it was.... It would behoove Edwards and Hillary to not try and make this something its not.

    Obama 08!!!

    January 18, 2008 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  5. Dave

    Before criticizing (or even defending) Obama's Reagan reference, one would be wise to read or view it in full and in the context of the interview. Or one could just rely on his political opponents to objectively characterize it.

    January 18, 2008 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  6. mary ward

    Ronald Reagan contribution to this country is on the same level as Bush and OPEC. Remember the Air Traffic Controllers fiasco. Remember when you could claim the interest on credit cards on your income taxes. Remember the trickle down effect, much of what you hear today. Can you hear the cry for help. If not, you should not be voting at all.


    January 18, 2008 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  7. Georgia

    Amen Dee!!

    January 18, 2008 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  8. Jim

    I didn't vote for Reagan in 1980 nor in 1984. But as an Obama supporter, I see one positive similarity between the two. Obama has been criticized by Hillary Clinton for saying he will talk to the Iranian leaders if and when he is the president. Clinton called Obama "naive" for stating that intention. I can unequivocably say I would rather have the American and Iranian presidents talking to each other than bombing each other. Look at what Reagan did to break down the Cold War, he began having dialogue with the Soviets. It wasn't easy, and it didn't happen overnight. But when political leaders of different nations meet in person, it gives an excellent opportunity to understand each other's nations better. Reagan did it, and I hope Barack Obama gets elected and can do it as well. Sitting in the White House calling someone part of an "Axis of Evil" but following with no action is a sorry excuse for leadership.

    January 18, 2008 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  9. Murry

    Barack Obama is an uniter not a divider. Cheers to him for being able to see history with open eyes. While learn much from our friends, we can learn even more from our foes. Obama is the kind of diplomatic leader we need, one that will build bridges, not walls.

    January 18, 2008 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  10. kate

    Obama is a ROOKIE.
    And this shows it.

    January 18, 2008 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  11. guy neested

    It's about tiem for Edwards to realize that nobody is interested in his thoughts or run for president. His ongoing tirades and attempts to gain some miniscule amount of recognition are almost tragic. The "never say die attitude" of an ambulance chasing trial attorney is obvious. This cantidate was out before he started. Like always, he'll be the last to realize it...

    January 18, 2008 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  12. CDM 45409

    i am pretty sure ol' Hillary speaks the mind of her husband and of his administration.. oh those were fun times, weren't they!?

    January 18, 2008 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  13. John


    January 18, 2008 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    Regan was president of USA for God's sake.

    Hating Regan because he was a republican is plain stupid, that just shows the division between americans. Obama wants to unite USA and he's on the right track, recognizing qualities of different politicians regardless of their political affiliation.

    January 18, 2008 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  15. aston F

    Obama may have just won my support. I am independent who voted for Bush and looking for a candidate with the leadership skill and principles to be nail-hard on terror even more than Bush. By invoking Reagan whose leadership I admire (and yes whose policies unfortunately hurt the middle class) amid heated battles in primaries, show the courage and resolve to change America's trajectory at home and abroad ...just what we need right now.... I believe Obama will strengthen the middle class

    January 18, 2008 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  16. Whater

    Regan was president of USA for God's sake.

    Hating Regan because he was a republican is plain stupid, that just shows the division between americans. Obama wants to unite USA and he's on the right track, recognizing qualities of different politicians regardless of their political affiliation.

    January 18, 2008 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  17. Proud Member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

    Terry from El Paso wrote:
    "The growth of the middle class was made possible by the Roosevelt and Truman administrations via a REDISTRIBUTION OF INCOME through taxation from the upper to the middle class..."

    Exactly who in the hell thinks it is right and good and decent to steal from one group and give to another? Robin Hood is a terrible myth and it has apparantly polluted and infected many American's brains.

    Redistribute? You have no idea who I am or what I've had to do to get ahead in life. Were you there when I was poor growing up, yet still made the honor roll? Were you there when I put myself through college, still on the dean's list? Were you there when I joined the military? Were you there and did you feel my sacrifices when I worked 60-80 hours a week and went to grad school two or three nights a week, again graduating Cum Laude? I paid for all of this myself. I made a hell of a lot of sacrifices. Were you there and did you feel the pain of my sacrifices along with me? You have no clue. I got ahead and I did it myself and I'm doing very well for myself.

    Now again I ask you, who in the hell are you to steal from me and give to others whom YOU deem more worthy of my money than my very own family?

    FDR, Truman and Johnson are hardly people I would call role models, unless perpetual (yet "equally distrubuted") poverty and misery are your goals.

    January 18, 2008 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  18. Susan

    how dare he speak good of a republican!!!

    January 18, 2008 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  19. chelle

    Oh John Edwards, buy a life. Ronald Reagan, while a Republican, did change the US. To deny it because you don't like his economics, is to be petty and partisan in the extreme. Obama seems to actually get that you don't need to jump on every remark made by your opponents (Bill Clinton's assertions not withstanding.....)

    January 18, 2008 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  20. sairefgm

    Smooth move Obama! Smooth move!

    January 18, 2008 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  21. David

    I am dreading the moment when Obama starts calling himself, "a uniter not a divider." He wants to be like Bush and now he's comparing himself to Ronald Reagan.

    January 18, 2008 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  22. Steve, San Ramon, CA

    Unions have done a lot of good, but I think they generally handicap US industries in their current form. Reagan gets a lot of credit for turning around our country, but it was Fed chairman Paul Volcker that pushed short term rates to 20% to adequately price in inflation and allowed our economy to properly rebalance capital investment. I support Obama, but I don't envy the road ahead of him if elected.

    January 18, 2008 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  23. Nancy

    Edward you schmuck!

    You have the audacity to criticize the man who saved this country from the cold war. Who united the Republican and the Democrats in a way no one has ever been able to do.

    You and Hillary should ride off into the sunset together.

    January 18, 2008 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  24. elliott

    Reagan was by far one of the best presidents in the last 50 years. How do ya like me now?!! Clinton and Carter.......the worst!
    Have a nice day democrats.... ; }

    January 18, 2008 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  25. JO

    I am glad to see that some of you see what I see when I am looking at the candidates. Like it or not all that Mrs. Clinton has done in her "Six" years (not 35) of "experience" in the Senate is perpetuate divisive politics. I like many of you have friends and family members that are Republicans, even though we differ greatly on many issues, I still respect their opinion. Barak Obama understands that he does not have all the answers (and yes WE Dems don’t have all the answers either) but he is willing to listen and evaluate others ideas and opinions and come up with the best SOLUTION. This concept is the essence of LEADERSHIP. We all have seen what the inability to listen to others has done to OUR country over the last eight years. I, like Sen. Obama, believe that we as a country need a new course. We have far too long been divided by politics and idea logs. Was President Reagan ALL bad? NO! Did he have some policies that were controversial and hurtful? Yes! (Amnesty for illegal aliens amongst the Republicans and Iran/Contra for the Democrats) Yet and still, President Regan did lay the ground work for the fall of the Iron Curtain (and we all know that was a good thing). Bottom line, we truly need a UNITER and not a DIVIDER during these perilous times. Believe it or not we are all in this thing together!!

    January 18, 2008 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
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