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. Gbryant

    Jim January 18, 2008 2:40 pm ET

    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

    Jim, Obama was criticized because he thinks he can become president one day, get on a plane the next, and go talk to everybody like they are just sitting there waiting (in Iran or elsewhere) for him to hypnotize them into a peace process just like he has hypnotized the younger Americans on MTV. Rapport has to be built up, respect, and trust. I DO NOT think that Obama with his background and ethnicity can pull it off.

    January 18, 2008 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  2. MB Nekog

    As usual, CNN fails to mention the true story here... not that Obama compares himself to Reagan, but rather, because Obama undermines the many great things that Bill Clinton did in his presidency. Now that's revisionist history at it's best. Ronald Reagon=transformer, Bill Clinton= not so much. This again demonstrates Obama's lack of experience and knowledge– even of his OWN party!

    January 18, 2008 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  3. Chris, Orlando, FL

    Thanks, John Edwards. Obama would be a HUGE mistake for America. Hillary is the ONLY WAY TO GO.

    Clinton/Edwards '08

    January 18, 2008 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  4. Young & Seeing Change

    I love all the comments posted here. It's great to see the debate and conversation taking place that we have not been allowed to have in the past. I would like to also show my appreciation to Mr. Edwards for allowing me to make my decision on who to support. With all of his education, I refuse to believe such dumb analogy. What the hack what was Edwards thinking? To now realize that Reagan was a CHANGE (with attention to his misfortunes), I would have to agree that we need CHANGE again. So I must vote for the candidate who see this CHANGE happening and willing to sacrifice his life to a cause to unite all of us. We're hated around the world, hating each other, and hating ourselves. Please people, let's get over it for the sake of our future and our generations to come. So I must be apart of this history making experience. I was first born during the Reagan years, so I'm looking forward to my rebirth during the Obama years.

    **Its' so great to know I can now sleep at night. No longer an UNDECIDED!***

    January 18, 2008 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  5. John

    Might I add that Republicans try to mirror themselves after Reagan. See Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Mitt Romney, George W. Bush. They all try to look Reaganesque. And many Republicans, even John McCain, promote tax cuts similar to Reaganomics. How did Reagan not change the course of history?

    That said, if you read the Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama, he clearly talks about his disapproval for Ronald Reagan's policies in the 1980's. He was politically active against them in the hay day of Reagan's years. C'mon, Mr. Edwards, you know better than to equate Senator Obama with a Reagan Republican.

    January 18, 2008 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  6. Sam

    John Edwards won't have to worry about keeping his promise ("I can promise you this: this president will never use Ronald Reagan as an example for change").

    John Edwards will never be President.

    January 18, 2008 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  7. fandrews

    I wish ALL of those running for President of the United States would just grow up and start addressing the issues!

    January 18, 2008 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  8. Tim, Seattle, WA

    I'm with Karen P above. If you want to see a Democrat in the White House, make Obama the nominee. If Hillary wins the nomination, I'll be voting Republican, as much as it will pain me. I am tired of the Clintons and their pandering. Hillary is the most manufactured person ever in the public eye. Has anyone been paying attention to the many faces she's put on lately? We've had 20 years of Bush and Clinton. Time for change. Time for new ideas.

    January 18, 2008 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  9. Tom Edwards Spring Hill Fl

    Under the Clinton administration gas was $ 1.06 at the end , 401Ks' were flourishing , the country was at peace , jobs had increased three fold and real wages had risen 8 years in a row. The shame is that rather than view facts many use personalities to judge results. Those who elect oil men deserve neither low prices , nor sympathy. It's like making a chicken hawk the head of your chicken farm. Now we have choices on the democratic side that none of which can be worse than what we have had for the last eight years , or under ANY previous Repukelican administartion since Ford.

    January 18, 2008 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  10. Andy, New York, New York

    Say what you want, you weasles for Democrats. Ronald Reagan was the MAN! John Edwards can never ever fit his clumsy feet in THE GIPPER'S shoes!

    For all his flaws, Reagan was responsible for leading America in its victory over the Soviet Union in the race for world dominance, and that is why we still have freedom in America and other countries.

    Had the Soviet Union beaten American, we won't be a free people any longer!

    Reagan did change the political landscape of America for Americans and the rest of the free world. But he first had to beat a weak and weary Jimmy Carter on whose watch America's superpower and leader of the free world status and was threatened as socialist and communist governments began springing up all over the place.

    I'll always remember Reagan's Star Wars (Strategic Defense Initiative) that discombobulated the Soviets because they did not have the finaces to back up their version of our SDI. And that's when we knew we had the Soviets cornered. A few years later, on George H. W. Bush's watch, the Soviet Union collapsed.

    America is still standing, thanks be to God for a man named Ronald Wilson Reagan!

    January 18, 2008 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  11. Stephen

    John Edwards just lost my vote.
    He had it, too.
    I was not an Obama supporter, but he's getting my vote. As a former trial lawyer of some success, I can not believe that Sen. Edwards misinterpretted Sen. Obama's statements to the degree to which it seems. He's either playing the dirtiest of politics, or is as complete a moron as they say.

    January 18, 2008 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  12. Boogie Los Angeles CA

    Reagan...You mean that president who completely IGNORED the building epidemic of AIDS/HIV until the last year of his presidency, where he mentioned it in ONE speech?

    7 years of thousands of people dropping dead...7 years that would could have made a HUGE difference in the research, treatment, prevention and spread of this disease...but, this president of CHANGE, refused to do anything about it.

    Obama made a crap call...again
    Trying to turn a red state blue by referencing one of their republican heros.
    Can we say DUHHHHHHH!

    January 18, 2008 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  13. dude in Michigan

    After reading Obama's quote...I think Obama's trying to do that which Hillary and Edwards can't...reach and appeal across party boundries to get Republican converts to vote "Obama".

    ...Edwards is just trying to muster up controversy to gain media attention before his campaign comes to an end (again). And he's not even doing a good job of that.

    And for Jim's comment above...can anyone tell me what the cold war did with Cuba
    after the Cold War ended? So what exactly has the US embargo of everything Cuban accomplished???

    January 18, 2008 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  14. RD

    Reagan was the leader who brought the US military back from the despairing morass of Vietnam and Carterism and just in time to confront the Soviets who were starting to dominate the global chessboard. As a military officer during the Carter and Reagan terms I found the difference in military morale startling. Reagan gave the military the tools to improve. Obama was highlighting that the electorate wants optimism so as to feel good about their lives, and Reagan brought out the best in America. Edwards and Clinton give nothing but complaints and negativism.

    January 18, 2008 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  15. Larry Smith Tolland CT

    Reagan was the best President we ever had, plan and simple. This is why voting for the liberal democrats that are running is wrong. Its not American. As Reagan would do, we lower taxes, fix our boarders, win the war, and ship back the illegals. Obama is nothing like Reagan, and should regret for saying different. Go Mike Huckabee!

    January 18, 2008 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  16. Joe B, York Pa.

    Mr. Obama, Mr. Edwards, I know Ronald Reagan. You, sir(s), are no Ronald Reagan.

    January 18, 2008 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  17. charlene bagnall

    Obama is all fluff and NO substance. He is also as arrogant as our present

    January 18, 2008 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  18. Jon

    Why can't Obama praise Reagan. Are we so stuck in our partisan politics that we can't acknowledge the good things in our political rivals? And I say rivals, not enemies. I admit it, I'm a conservative Republican, but I still respect FDR for the his spirit and leadership during WWII. Politically and economically, I think his New Deal was the beginning of the nanny state we are headed for if a Democrat wins. I think JFK was an inspirational leader to a certain extent. I love how he made us reach for the stars, but I disagree with many of his decisions. I think Jimmy Carter has a good heart and is to be commended for his efforts with Habitat for Humanity, but you can probably guess what I think of his presidency, not good. I think Obama was refering to how Reagan changed the overall attitude of the country. There is no doubt that the country was in bad shape when Reagan took over. For those of you who think Reagan "distroyed" the middle class, I'm sure the middle class was better off under Reagan than Carter. I don't remember waiting for hours in line to get gas under Reagan. I don't remember record breaking inflation under Reagan. I don't remember seeing the malaise index in the paper under Reagan. In fact, that is the exact thing Obama was refering to, Reagan brought about a change in attitude. SO many of you preach "change, change, change...." and for the most part I have no idea what change you or the Democrat candidates are talking about. But Obama actually did do something different, he praised an icon of the other party, a man that a large majority of Americans see as an inspirational leader, and most of you rip him apart for it. Grow up.

    January 18, 2008 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  19. Kevin

    As someone mentioned, Reagan won in landslides – carrying many democrat votes. This makes me respect Obama more, not less. If our candidates cannot find positive elements from the opposite party even while campaigning, what hope do we have that they will find common ground after elected? If John Edwards' bio is true, then he benefited greatly because of Reagan's policies – from poor boy to mega-wealthy lawyer. Edwards is obviously desperate and is increasingly irrelevant to the race.

    January 18, 2008 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  20. Jeff, Geneva, Ill.

    Please are we going to over analyze everything the candidates say? I read nothing into this more than Obama noting how Reagan changed an era of politics....and he did. Like it or hate it, 28 years later you still have people invoking Reagan economics. Listen to the Republican debates, they'd all wish to be him. If certain elitist democrats are mad, so be it. Isn't true nobody has wanted emulate Nixon in a long time? Bill has his strong supporters – his wife, but a significant people want to break away for a new era.

    Obama is a candidate who gives me hope that we can break away from the politcs of Reagan and Clinton and can set the country going forward in the 21st century. The Obama campaign is in a difficult spot because they know a lot people weren't happy with the Clinton years and would love to have them called out, but a great majority and the esblishment look at the those 8 years with rose colored classes and any slap at those years makes him a bad candidate.

    January 18, 2008 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  21. allan

    The biggest problem is that the Obama supporters do not like other to comment on Obama's past, speech, etc. Obama only want to draw a pizza, no matter the pizza taste is. What his direction he will be changed, is right direction or bad direction? The country needs a practical president not idealist president. Vote some solve realistic problems.

    January 18, 2008 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  22. sicofdemslikeu

    You all act as though Reaganomics is not alive and well in Washington, how many times have you heard that this economy is strong, and went without everyone is worried about the economy, but no one seems to see what fundamental change started this long-term trend. Clue ....the changes that Ronald Reagan was able to create during his term, to do that we need the same level of change but the opposite direction of change. Everyone else is too invested to stand for that change and step away from business as usual in D.C.


    Reagan "changed" America everyone on this post knows that. Republicans love him for it many Democrats (excluding Reagan Democrats) hated him for it, but never the less those "changes" are very likely the largest "changes" this country has ever made. Does anyone ever remember hearing the term "Reagan Democrat" these were democrats like yourselves who identified with Reagan's vision and chose to vote for him instead of the Democratic candidate.(this is why he won people) Does anyone out their have any issue with an Obama Republican voting for Sen. Obama in the general election, in my opinion that in and of itself would represent change, of all the candidates Sen. Obama is the only candidate running for the Presidency not a party nomination, commend him for it, don't bash him he sees the larger picture. Reagan's economic policies have failed the American people while making Corporate elites and CEO wealthier than ever, hence the reasoning behind the idea that the American people can do fundamentally bad economically while we are within a growing economy. Reagan's change was that shift in focus to Businesses away from people, Sen. Obama's change will be a shift in focus back to middle class Americans and IN PART away from the Business which have been posting huge profits and increasing production efficiency figures. By making America's middle class strong again, Government can stimulate substantial economic growth in consumer spending which represents 70% of our economic strength. This is the "change" we need people, lest you're doing exceptionally well with your citizen's sponsored corporate tax breaks, and would like to continue along down the path of Reaganomics as usual. Sen. Obama's comment just went over many of your heads, but playing down his intelligence was never a part of his playbook.
    Anyone who hates Sen. Obama for making that Reagan comment is most likely a republican who was offended by the fact that while the GOP candidates have been trying to position themselves as the resurrection of Reagan back onto the political landscape, they have failed to realize how Reagan won the Presidency and put himself in a position to make those drastic "changes" , by looking beyond his base for votes on the other side of the aisle. By, showing some respect for Ronald Reagan Sen. Obama is not stating his agreement with his policies, but rather he is admitting to the Country/ World what he has always been willing to say "I as well as us all have short-comings as well as strengths, but it is how we work beyond or short-comings that determines what we as Nation can do for this Nation using our strengths. This is how you win in November the fact that Sen. Obama has decided this early to do what any democratic nominee winner would have to do later just shows his leadership qualities and integrity in even a better light. Sen. Clinton would do the same thing and address the sensibilities of those outside her base as well if she wins the nomination, as will Edwards

    This has only assured him my vote, America is ready for change, and I think Sen. Obama has stated what fundamental change needs to be made with that statement. He has said all alone get the lobbyist / special interest out of their position of power, focus the Gov back on the American middle class, cut Government spending (i.e. end this war) those three actions would put this country back on track within a few years.

    Many of you have nothing to contribute to this process, unintelligible psycho babble and tasteless undemocratic hatred.

    January 18, 2008 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  23. Independent in America

    "John Edwards does not connect with the Democratic Party’s base."

    HUH?? AND Barack Obama does?!

    Since when did the Democratic BASE become the more upscale, college-educated, upwardly mobile, affluent wine-drinkers? Oh that's right since they fielded John Kerry in 2004. And guess what, Kerry throws his endorsement to Obama in 2008.

    Poor Kerry is still trying to vindicate his Swift boat sinking. Maybe he sees his lost hope in Obama?


    "Nevada’s biggest newspaper endorses (barely) Obama
    Posted: 11:47 AM ET

    LAS VEGAS, Nevada (CNN) – The conservative-leaning editorial board Nevada’s biggest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, has endorsed Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Barack Obama, but the latter very half-heartedly.

    WASHINGTON (CNN) — When is an endorsement not quite an endorsement? When it reads anything like yesterday’s tepid backing of Obama in the conservative-leaning Las Vegas Review-Journal:

    “Is Barack Obama, then, the ideal Democratic candidate for president? Hardly,” it began, The editorial criticizes his lack of experience and dismisses his message of change. “His policy recommendations — when he can be convinced to get any more specific than "I represent change" — are the opposite of "change." They're old-line, welfare-state solutions that haven't spent enough time in the microwave to appear even superficially appetizing. (OUCH given that the Culinary Worker's Union supports him?) And in a reprise of recent primary-season attacks on Obama’s bid, it dubbed the candidate himself “a relatively young man with relatively little of the kind of real-world experience that prepares a candidate” for major crises.

    But, they concluded, “Barack Obama is, at least, likeable.”

    The Democrats will field their "MOST PALATABLE (pun intended) CANDIDATE" and then wonder why they lost to the GOP yet again?!

    sorry we just can't help ourselves 😉 John January 18, 2008 1:28 pm He (Obama) does have great plans, I saw him speak here in Iowa personally. I heard his plans on health care, and others, I also read his book. Plus I read not only the media out put, but BLOGS = BLOGS now that's an awfully smart place to learn all there is to know about the candidates?!

    January 18, 2008 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  24. Bill

    Don't worry John, you will never be confused with Ronald Reagan. You aren't fit to pick up the excrement from Ronald Reagan's horse. Although you do resemble where the excrement comes from.

    January 18, 2008 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  25. Misty

    Will anybody really listen or read what Obama has to say! My Gosh-Mr. John Edwards need to listen too. Barack did speak in English!

    January 18, 2008 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
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