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. Mike, CA

    If we're so smart, why can't people see the comment for what a was? An observation of how Reagan changed the trajectory of our country and only because the people were ready for it.
    If a history teacher were to say the exact thing, will we say that he's comparing himself to Reagan? Obama never said he agreed with Reagan's policies. And I think the point he was making is that the country was ready for that change.
    People are ready for a new change now. The emphasis should be on the word change, not Reagan. He was a President of the United States. Whether you like him or not, he did change the trajectory of this country in ways other Presidents did not. They changed it in other ways. This political bashing is turning people off from the electoral process. It takes Republicans and Democrats and Independents to make this country work. We have to put aside partisan politics and learn to work for the common good. That is what has to change and that is why I support Barack Obama for President.

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

    As an empty nester and single person, I am finding it very hard to try to get a handle on who I should vote for. I am reallly getting tired of all this crap back and forth, i would like to see more about the candidate's policy both here and abroad.
    All I can say is that not a darn one of those running (either party) have enough sense to get in out of the rain. Is this the best America has?????

    January 18, 2008 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  3. A

    Americans will NEVER come together because all Repulicans are suppose to hate Democrates and visa-versa because they are in different parties. I think we as Americans should continue to only see good in the people that are in our party.

    January 18, 2008 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  4. L. Ovell

    Come on people now
    Smile on one another
    Everybody get together
    Try to love one another right now

    Life is too short The planet too small
    Obama 2008

    January 18, 2008 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  5. Richard

    Why does everyone always talk about how great Reagan was. How come no one talks about George W. Bush ??

    January 18, 2008 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  6. ciliziman

    Reagan is the one who ended the Cold War between US and Ex.URSS. Since then US is the most powerful contry in the World. He was a strong president even if he wasn't perfect and had taken some bad decisions in internal policies. Let's not be partisan without thinking. Let's get out beyod the obvious. Any great American President- could be a democrate or republican -should be considered by all of us as such. Next, please!

    January 18, 2008 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  7. Leah DiMarco, TX

    I hope that CNN is keeping a copy of all the articles and Comments to include in the Barack Obama Presidential Library.

    January 18, 2008 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  8. aisha naeem

    i thought i was gonna vote for obama or hillary but now its hillary or edwards ,noooooooo obama . his preacher is like his family and i heard his comments .and obama playing ads in spanish when he was against 3rd party ads in iowa ,he with young age drug use admittance even though he admitted it but what kind of example is that for other young african americans,that oh yeah its ok to try ,its easy to come off of it u be president one day too ,and they talk about race ,they think african americans will only vote for him because he is black .i dont think so african americans r smarter than that .some support him and some support hillary .and edwards he is been victim of media .so who i m gonna vote for ,i dont know but i do know nooooooooooo obamaaaaaaaa

    January 18, 2008 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  9. Kim

    Barack did not say that the change that resulted in the Reagan years, was for the better, he simply said that America changed-and it did, in a way that it did not during Clinton's years. Having lived through the Reagan years it is my opinion that the change was bad in many ways but people need to get off Barack's back. Can they not see a brilliant strategic move when it is right in front of them?

    January 18, 2008 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  10. Bob



    January 18, 2008 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  11. HeatherH

    "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 . . .

    Interesting. I guess everyone forgets that he was elected to seven one-year terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild. In fact, I think he said after his presidency that he was most proud of this accomplishment . Whether you agree or not with his politics, he was undeniably pro-union.

    What I find most interesting is that none of the comments on this page brought up this fact about Reagan.

    Edwards is probably referring to the showdown between Reagan and the air traffic controllers. Striking was not allowed by this particular union because they were government workers and this was the law. Everyone who was around after September 11 can see the effect shutting down the air transportation sector of our economy can do to the entire nation. It is one thing hurting your employer, and it is quite another to hold the whole economy of the US hostage. They were in the wrong, and only a pro-union Reagan could hold them to their commitments by firing those that refused to go back to work. Saying that one union is wrong does not make him anti-union. It is possible for a union to be wrong, isn't it?

    January 18, 2008 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  12. simon

    True , Reagan wrote good stuff about abortion ,but gave a blank check to the right-wing generals to wage their wars in Central America.

    January 18, 2008 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  13. Rich In Seattle

    So by pointing out that Reagan changed politics, which he did, but not saying he agreed with Reagan.... that makes Obama wrong? Edwards is reading waaaay more into what Obama said and trying to spin it into a negative. Reagan did make the country feel better about itself after years of recession. Now, did he go about it the way Obama would, no. But he did tap into what the country was feeling. Which is what Obama is doing, but with a different message and approach.

    Edwards is desperate and needs to read what Obama said about the obvious history of presidential politics.

    January 18, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  14. Robert

    Jim–You fail to see the difference between what Obama has stated and what Reagan did. Obama will meet with terorristic leaders and meet with dictators with NO preconditions and within his first year. Reagan worked as President towards the meeting and ensured that the Soviets would not be the ones who could use meetings as a PR ploy.

    January 18, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  15. 4Wanda


    She is the one candidate that will bring the American people together. In fact I can see it now. After just a few months ALL the American people, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Women, Men, Blacks, White and Latinos will be together calling for her remove. Hillary Clinton if elected president will setback the cause of women in power positions back 200 years.

    By the way, what do Hillary Clinton and Barry Goldwater have in common? Hillary as a head of the Young Republicans for Goldwater in 1964 against LBJ supported him and also like he opposed the 1965 Civil Rights Act.

    Go Hillary!!!!! Bring us all together!

    January 18, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  16. charlotte

    Obama just shot himself in the foot! Wait long enough and most of them will. Ah, to be a fly on the wall now, would be very interesting! What a major mistake, Regan who did major damage to the Air Traffic Controlers, and any other union who dared to ask for workers rights. He, like Obama, was very good with words. He was indeed a great talker and was able to fool a lot of the people, myself included. Maybe that is why I'm not as quick as young people to be enthrailed with a good speech.

    January 18, 2008 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  17. anti-reagen and proud

    John Edwards so gets it. Ronald Reagan was everything he said and more. Reagan glamorized selfishness, crushed working people and drove women into the work force. He was the first truly evil president we have had (a close second in evil is Mr. cheney but he is de facto president, VP in name only).

    Mr. Obama's remarks show us that he doesn't get it. All change is not good. The kind of change Mr. Reagan brought us has changed this nation into a bunch of whining selfish phobes who cannot tolerate the existence of anyone else and all of whom think they are going to be rich some day so that can be like Mr. Reagan.

    If he believed in hell I hope Ronnie is enjoying the heat.

    January 18, 2008 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  18. Karen P

    Hillary gets blasted because all she does is boo-hoo. She started all the messes and Obama just answered them. If other countries are laughing at us over Bush...just wait until a Hillary administration...we really WILL be the laughing stock of the world! She doesn't have "experience" except for trying to squelch the first amendment.

    January 18, 2008 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  19. Gbryant

    TO: Jim P. – Chicago

    You should be taxed on all the money you make and not have a cut-off point so you can keep it over a certain amount. Geez. Republicans.

    January 18, 2008 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  20. timothy

    Why, oh why, did Mr. Obama have to bring up Ronald Reagan.

    This man is responsible for the mainstream acceptance of suppy-side economic philosophy which is having a negative effect on policy decisions to this day, he openly promoted the destruction of the New Deal, which was integral in creating a middle-class and raising the standard of living for millions of Americans, and was undeniably racist.

    His ludicrous remarks on welfare-recipients living like kings played directly into the long-held stereotypes among many caucasians that african-americans are lazy and looking for handouts.

    Ronald Reagan won the cold war... yup, a war that was based on fear and not much else. He was a great actor though; he managed to deceive many Americans.

    Mr. Edwards is correct about so many things... it's a shame that he's perceived as a nut-case and has no shot at winning the nomination.

    January 18, 2008 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  21. bobby

    Bill Clinton didn't change the direction of this country! How about eliminating the national deficit? How about an economic surge for the middle class?

    Is Obama stupid? Or is he just rewriting history because a Clinton is his rival? To praise Reagan as a reformer... I like this guy less and less every day.

    January 18, 2008 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  22. robert

    He has to be careful what he said Reagan talk brings about controversy...many Democrats don't like him so again it will hurt him to invoke his name while campagning...especially among unions...ouch!

    January 18, 2008 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  23. CHERYL

    I personally hope Obama and Edwards run together on the same ticket they both would be a great benifit to this country

    January 18, 2008 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  24. Antonio

    yeah he was in a union. He was an actor, all major actors have to be in one

    January 18, 2008 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  25. Bill, Tacoma

    The N.Y. Times published an article at the end of Reagan's first term, talking about how the doctors came within a heartbeat of putting Reagan in a mental institution because he was so 'out of it'. Reagan was a brain-dead idiot during his second term. Nancy Reagan ran this country using a ouija board.
    Talk to the people who were there.

    January 18, 2008 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
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