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. jsh

    -I agree with some of the above comments. How we can go from "Regan changed the political landscape" to "obama compares himself to regan" or "I love regan" is beyond me. Look at your grade-school textbooks. This isn't about arrogance or idealism or anything like that, it's just a fact. Regan won two landslide elections. Nobody voted for Carter, and there were negative votes for Mondale. Obama was making an "observation" about political history, something he does quite a lot because he has a brain: he actually passed the bar the first time he took it, unlike some other candidates.

    This is why Obama is dangerous to the democrat establishment. He has had a very nasty, very deadly idea – "Obama Republicans," just like we had "Regan democrats" in the eighties. We certainly can't have that. The political process must be designed to exclude, occlude, eliminate and negate everyone who doesn't agree with my views. My issues, my ideas, my beliefs, mine, mine, mine.

    If the democratic party stands for collective values, the middle class (i.e. most Americans), the healthy, fair distribution of wealth, and the concomitant rights of humans and nonhumans, then the democratic establishment needs to get off of this subjective kick. Count how many times Hillary and Edwards say "I" in a speech. Then count how many times Obama does so. This is THE fundamental difference between the candidates, not issues, not policy, not experience, but rhetoric. Politics is all rhetoric in a campaign. When Edwards says "My father worked in a miiiilllll" or Hillary screams in an anaphoric crescendo which begins every clause with "I" and then closes with, "I've been fighting for change for 35 years," or when Obama says "yes we can," citing Chavez, it's all, all rhetoric. Analyzing the rhetoric will get you the answers to who these people are to how they will lead.

    January 18, 2008 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  2. Joe Ossai, Bedford, NH

    Lack of proper education is the biggest challenge/danger facing this country. Look at the comments posted on this board. It appears as if some of these people can't read.

    Edward who by all means is out of this election, should know better.

    January 18, 2008 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  3. Randy

    Edwards is 100% right. After WW2 the GI bill brought education which with newly created jobs and together with unions led to the greatest wealth this country knew.Then the oil crisis threw the world into recession.Since 1980 CEO and other top white collar pay has multiplied many times while the average worker has stayed the same, if not fallen behind.Reagan heaped huge deficits, something Republicans wouldn't allow Democrats to do without complaint, the old tax and spend rally cry.The Savings and Loan debacle cost 1.4 trillion and how many S&L's were led by Dem's/Libs. Few. Reagan brought prosperity back but at a cost. "Conservatives" wouldn't have allowed a Democrat the same choices of running up huge deficits.At least Reagan could work with the other party.
    GOP have sold the working class down the river ignoring corporate theft of unearned bonuses and pay compensation .Yes the Democrats have done little to stop it .Edwards at least addresses it.

    January 18, 2008 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  4. Linda Pacifica

    does anyone remember the term 'reaganomics'? what democrat would say such things? Obama is a fraud.

    January 18, 2008 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  5. Kenny, VA

    Mark Eades, thank you for pointing out that partisanship still trumps all else.

    "If the candidate I like doesn't get the nod, I'll vote for the one I don't like just because they're in the right party."

    As a republican, I can say that there are two of the three deomcratic frontrunners I could vote for, and several GOP candidates I could not.

    January 18, 2008 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  6. Jim

    I like Obama and may vote for him, but sometimes he seems naive. I'm old enough to remember that Reagan Democrats, particularly in the South, went to Reagan in 1980 largely because of his sly implied promise to roll back Affirmative Action. There was great resentment against the expansion of AA under Nixon and Carter. By promising to "get government off the backs" of the people, many who never worshiped at the altar of entrepreneurship saw an opportunity in Reagan to return to the status quo ante, where jobs went to the white guy who was deemed most qualified. Reagan perfected Nixon's Southern Strategy of dividing the south along racial lines, and it has remained the same ever since. Someone from the civil rights movement should take Barack to the woodshed and teach him the facts of life in America. Would he be where he is today without Affirmative Action?

    January 18, 2008 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  7. BamaMAMA

    I just love the fact that all of you love Obama. We will have our first black president!

    January 18, 2008 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  8. John Q

    This is why Obama can win the national election and the others cannot.
    The fact is, regardless of what he (Reagan) actually did, the vast
    majority of Americans loved Ronald Reagan – which is why he was re-
    elected twice SO convincingly (I'm talking landslides... only 2 states
    didn't vote for him in 1984) Now, I know I'm definitely no Reagan
    fan, but what Obama said is true nonetheless, and I think that his statements can really reach some Purple people in the middle who are tired of divisive politics. I think
    the fact that Edwards is making a big deal out of it is really short
    sighted, and exemplifies perfectly why the democrats keep losing national elections.

    January 18, 2008 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  9. Elinda

    Obama praised Reagan's oratory and ability to inspire the crowds ... but behind all that oratory and inspiration was a flawed president who supported corporate America at the expense of the middle class. And Obama may go the same route.

    January 18, 2008 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  10. AtlantaVoter

    I see the context of Obama's remark. I also see why it warrants Edward's remarks. Let's not forget that Reagan's 'sea of change' left a lot of crap on the beach when it finally subsided.

    Hillary Clinton '08!!

    January 18, 2008 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  11. MGJams,,,,, Google me!

    It does not suprise me to find another article written by a CNN employee supporting old Ronny Reagan. Why should they be nonbiased about this wonderful country that that old man and his beloved Republican Party and the news media gave us. They also came to power in the same years. Ronny and his Republican croonies changed the equal time laws for companies like CNN.
    Be honest with yourself ! you know what Fascism is, it is what the Republicans have given us in America.
    There is no reason CNN should be denying their complicity in abridging our freedoms. Hell!!!! They were a large part of bringing the message behind Reagan's so called liberal press, if you remember CNN fired all their Liberal and Democratic employees after Reagans election,, Fantasy? No! Just another CNN reporter trying to continue pushing the Conservative Right Wing agenda.
    I hope this CNN reporter is looking for work after this next election!
    Give it up CNN and tell the truth!
    Shame on you Barack!

    January 18, 2008 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  12. John

    Prior to George W. Bush, Regan was arguably the worst President America has ever had to endure. Now, Mr. Obama sings his praises. If America elects Obama as President of this Country, we will deserve what we will get. Can we afford two idiots in a row ruining this Country?

    January 18, 2008 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  13. Independent in IA

    Oh, yeah.....the Ol' Lawyer Standby.....innuendo.

    January 18, 2008 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  14. Obama '08

    I agree , Reagan was a great president – NOT corrupt like Clinton – people PLEASE research "The Clinton Body Count" – I cannot understand why noone is talking about this !

    January 18, 2008 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  15. Eric

    After reading the comments hear I now finally understand why politicians never speak openly and honestly during an election, because people can't handle it.

    January 18, 2008 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  16. OC


    Your "THOU SHALT NIT PRAISE REGAN AND CRITICIZE CLINTON IN THE SAME BREATH" shows why America hasn't elected but 2 democrats since the 60's!

    Ignorant, ignorant DEMOCRAT is what you are!

    January 18, 2008 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  17. Dave

    Huh? Is Obama serious. I am one of the few undecided people left as far as who I would like to see come from the Democratic Party. As an independent I do not get to vote until the general election. I will be voting democratic, no matter who wins from that party. I will say this though. Obama's comment was ignorance at it's best. When people say he doesn't have enough experience he proves it with comments like this. First of all, this is America. Sound bites rule. All the other campaigns have to do is play that one small clip "I want to be like Reagan" and his political career is done Nationally and maybe even in his own home state. Now with that said, for a Democrat to praise Reagan for anything in the same sentence as putting down Bill Clinton, he doesn't stand a chance. There are way too much Clilnton supporters with the money to back Obama, if he was to win, who will look at that comment and not help him. Clinton didn't change the country? Clinton changed this country so much, that we are still a partisan country. Republicans cannot stand him because of all he did for the poor. Reagan helped to bring down the wall in Germany. He helped end the Cold War? Which of these two helped you put food on your table? Clinton balanced the budget, stock market sky-rocketed. Every economic class, from rich to poor advanced under Clinton. if Obama only deems change as a foreign policy thing then he needs to join the Republican Party.

    January 18, 2008 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  18. Bryce

    Obama has yet to stop the rhetoric and tell us how he's going to deliver this country out of all it's troubles. Does he think he can walk into Washington and wave a staff and part the sea of politics like Moses did the red sea? I'm sorry but anyone trying to say that this guy is honest can't see past the surface of their TV screens.

    He can't do anything he's promising you and you fall for it anyway. Sad…. Just sad.

    Obama is just as slimy as any other politician. He's pandering in every forum he's given and the media is actually letting him!!!???!!!

    When is someone going to stand up and ask him REAL questions? After he's got the nomination and is going up against the republicans?

    Ever hear of the saying "Too little, Too late"? This guy can’t do the job he's applying for pure and simple.

    January 18, 2008 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  19. Noans

    Gee, all Obama was doing was explaining that change in Washington is possible. Citing Reagan as an example, was factual. Reagan did change the direction of America with conservative politics that favored big business and corporate America. Obama was just stating a fact that change in Washington and in America is possible. Obama continues to display class and the ability to unite all Americans by his reference to Ronnie. Edwards is understandably desperate and grabbing at straws because it appears as though he may come in third again, only this time in his own home state. That may be a pretty bitter pill to swallow, ergo the criticism of Obama's remark. Wasn't it Edwards who said that attacks against Obama were increasing as he, (Obama), becomes more and more like the candidate to beat? I like Edwards and think an Obama/Edwards ticket would be great. Edward's sudden attack against Obama doesn't serve Edwards well.

    BTW, great post Mark C. Eades!!!

    January 18, 2008 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  20. JB

    I am and have always been a Democrat. However, if Obama wins the Democratic nomination for president. I WILL VOTE REPUBLICAN. The ability to woo a crowd with public speaking and the knowledge to run a country in crisis are two totally different things. I silently wonder if the African Americans are voting for Obama because they believe in his ability to run our country or because he would be the first African American president. I wonder the same about Hillary, is she getting the Womens votes because she would be the first Woman president. People, wake up and vote for the person who can make changes. And I don't mean Edwards, his whining turns me completely against him. Poor , Poor pitifull me. yuk

    January 18, 2008 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  21. Brian, Houston

    All the Obama cheerleaders that jump on the comments sections of these sites sound almost exactly like the Bush cheerleaders we saw do the same thing back in 2000. It's actually pretty scary.

    Bush and Obama are SO similar in so many respects, including their false invocation of Reagan and commentary about unification and change. They're also both woefully inexperienced. We see the disastrous results of selecting Bush. I pray we don't have to endure the same failures again by electing his Democratic protege, Obama.

    January 18, 2008 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  22. Wallace Young, Atlanta Georgia

    This is not the first time Obama mentioned Ronald Reagan. At one of the debates back in the fall he mentioned Regan. At that time I thought something was wrong with his "message of hope." As a democrat and an African American I am offended that one of our potential nominees compares himself or even mentions the word Reagan in a positive light. While Regan was in office he ignored all blacks, is that what an Obama presidency would be like?


    January 18, 2008 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  23. Andrew, NY, NY

    Karen P

    I am with you 100% on ALL counts. The Clinton reputation is grossly overstated. Besides Carter, I cannot think of a more do nothing Administration than that of Clinton, especially in light of the fact that this moron had the benefit of the Peace Dividend. EXACTLY what did he accomplish? I too cannot think of a more despicable couple than the Clintons. Though I am admittedly a Republican, I have long said to friends and associates that I would gladly promise to vote for Obama in the general election for an assurance that Hillary will not be the Democrat nominee....I mean it. The thought of having those low-lifes in the WH for 4 years offering nothing more than the same partisan bickering and perpetual scandal in Washington sickens me. Hillary supporters who believe her agenda will be enacted are dreaming....not just because of resistance by the opposition to her liberal Socialist agenda, but because she is a Clinton. The Bush/Clinton (Hatfield/McCoy) feud has got to come to an end. No more of EITHER FAMILY PLEASE!!!!!!!!!

    January 18, 2008 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  24. Brad Burklow, Harrisburg, IL

    John Edwards doesn't get it. Obama is not saying that he agreed with Reagan's far right ideology. I persoanlly think Reagan's view of government was loony, but that doesn't matter. He's saying that Reagan was EFFECTIVE because he had the ability to reach across the aisle and bypass the media to get things done. He's saying that he himself is the only one running with that kind of potential. Most of the Reagan people seem to agree. Again, it's not about ideology but persona. Reagan's persona was what brought the Republican coalition of social and fiscal conservatives together and then added "Reagan Democrats" as a cherry on top that would bring him a landslide victory in '84. There is every indication that we will someday be talking about "Obama Republicans" and the coalition that he built. Reagan didn't have to moderate his views in order to bring that coalition together. He did it by being Ronald Reagan and making people feel good about themselves and the country. Rhetoric does matter, which is why Hillary Clinton will never, ever get more than around 50% of the country behind anything. She simply does not tend to inspire and no TACTIC can mitigage her basic problem of not having a personality.

    January 18, 2008 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  25. Jay Graham, Dallas, TX

    L-Mani, Vinay,
    When you as an Obama supporter can't see the pandering to republicans by his statement, why then Obama camp were so furious when Hillary commented on MLK? She did not rate MLK lower than LBJ. Obama by crtisizing Hillary achieved their objective-got all the african-american votes. And now in the same process he is not recognising Bill Clinton's 8 years of record surplus, 12 million new jobs, and economic prosperity. Is it because of the fear that he will loose republican and independent votes? Don't go by the sweet talk and poetry.

    CNN: Do not delete my 3rd message. Have some decency!

    January 18, 2008 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
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