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.

β€œHe 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.”

β€œI 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. Paul, CA

    Seriously – Edwards is and always has been a sue-happy greedy attorney. Don't we have enough of those without our President being one?

    As a life-long conservative, I appreciate that I have a difference of opinion than many of my democratic friends. That said, Edwards is an idiot. Obama at least has the sense to recognize reality.

    I believe if you examine Reagan's economic effect, his only real mistake was to allow congress to outspend the massive income tax increases (revenue folks, not tax rate) he accomplished while in office.

    He did not harm the middle class, but he did help bust a union. And for the most part, unions are out-dated relics of a bygone era. Stand on your own two feet. If you don't like your job, replace it. If you still don't like it, stand up on your own two feet and start your own business. I've done it 3x, twice with no capital, no college education, just hard work, good ideas and effort.

    God Bless Ronald Reagan and God Bless the USA.

    January 18, 2008 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  2. Charkey


    OBAMA 08

    INSANITY- Trying to solve problems, expecting different results, using the exact same methods. I.E. BUSH /CLINTON/BUSH/CLINTON


    January 18, 2008 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  3. Tom, Rockport ME

    Reagan– bringing accountability to government? Please! Does Obama remember Oliver North and the Iran-Contra affair? Does Obama remember Reagan's confessional on national TV about that unseemly example of underlings running amok? I certainly do...

    Reagan did bring changes, some were positive; many were not. I cringe when any candidate glorifies his legacy of conservative cronism.

    January 18, 2008 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  4. Glyn

    I look for for vison, character and direction from a President. Which is why Reagan and Bush both still appeal to me. And why Clinton (Bill) didnt and Clinton (Hillary) wont. Obama or McCain in 08. Its easy as ABC (Anyone But Clinton). (even Edwards would do)

    January 18, 2008 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  5. Frank, Dayton, Ohio

    So many have made comments that I agree with but none but than Mark C. Eades. All I can add to his comments is "amen. Wish I had said that."

    Edwards' criticism suggests to me that his mind is too small to be the leader of the free world. I'll vote for Hillary if she is the Democrat nominee because she is far better than anybody on the Republican side, whereas Obama's comments cement in my mind the fact that he is the right person for the presidency.

    Vote Obama '08!!!

    January 18, 2008 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  6. Tom Davie

    Here is the formula

    We white folks need to make sure we treat Obama fairly, and judge him on his character . We need to see if he is the better candidate based on issues.

    We black folks need to vote for Obama cause he is black.

    Aint life grand ?

    January 18, 2008 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  7. aeparsons

    Nice try to spin Obama's bizzare attempt to explain why the President does not really have to manage the government or economy by aligning himself with Reagan. Mr. Progressive Obama is clearly not progressive at all. He is right of center.

    CNN is one of the most biased news sources in this election I have ever seen. In fact, when I want to know how Obama's campaign hopes to spin things, I check out CNN. You are a bunch of dishonest propaganda pushers.

    January 18, 2008 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  8. cary , lowell, in.

    The media is antagonistic. You notice the item here is about JOHN EDWRDS criticizing Obama, but cnn makes it seem as if the WHOLE NATION is piling on Obama, which of course is not the case.

    Obama is coming under criticism from ONE PERSON, John Edwards !

    January 18, 2008 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  9. Nate

    Remember the song "Out of Touch" by Hall and Oates? It describes Edwards and Clinton in a nutshell.

    January 18, 2008 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  10. Molly

    Why have both of my posts not been put online after an hour of "moderation"?

    Nothing in either of them is profane or in any way offensive. One of the posts answers a question regarding the correct usage of "sea change."

    As someone with a journalism degree, I find the selective use of "free speech" disconcerting to say the least. What gives, CNN?

    January 18, 2008 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |


    One can tell instinctively that Obama is the real deal. You don't have to be a brilliant political scientist. There's an organic quality that comes from truthful speech, it tells you in your gut when someone's being straight with you. Lord knows we need more of this in our political discourse. When he speaks, you hear reason. Remember reason? We need more of that too.

    These are things that Edwards does not possess. You can hear that his rhetoric is typical political posturing, without the bedrock of sincerity underneath. You can hear that he probably wouldn't walk the walk.

    As for Hillary, yes, the Clinton's were once great for the economy, and a sight better overall than the terrible Reagan/Bush Sr years. But with the rose-colored glasses off, Clinton was never better than mediocre. He got in because he was corporate friendly, and willing to take up the reigns of NAFTA. Corporate powers groomed us for Clinton. Clinton was the "good cop" to Bush Sr's "bad cop", both were owned wholesale by corporate power. Don't let them buffalo you again. Vote Obama/Edwards in 08.

    January 18, 2008 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  12. Eric in Massachusetts

    It just dawned on me.....
    OBAMA = Reagonomics. Return to the Cold War. Wow, and people were afraid of Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton. We could have Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush-Reagan.

    It shows his freshman politics when he starts pandering for Republican votes when the Democratic primaries haven't even really started.

    January 18, 2008 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  13. George from Minneapolis

    People are so simple minded. You have to be dim witted to not see that Obama was talking about the positive parts of Reagan. Obviously Obama and Reagan don't agree idealogically. Hope you can see that.

    Some people are intelligent enough to seperate the positive from the negative and have enough courage to openly admire qualities in a person without overlooking what was not so great about them.

    I guess only us people who are capable of higher thought and who are courageous are capable of this.

    Another reason Obama has my vote.

    He is on another level than the other candidates. They dont compare to him intellectually, morally, courage wise and more importantly he just has more common sense than the rest of them combined.

    in short.... he is a real person...with great character.

    by the way... I don't like Reagan at all, but everything Obama said was TRUE.

    January 18, 2008 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  14. Jen, Gainesville, FL

    I do not know why my previous posting did not show up. I found nothing wrong with Obama's statement. Only a person with confidence can make such a statement. We should be loyal to truth not a particular party. There have been good presidents from both parties. Reagan is one (he was loved). Bill Clintion is not (he was impreached).

    January 18, 2008 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  15. Michael Spencer

    So Obama wants to violate Pakistan's sovereignty, doesn't favor health care mandates, and praises Ronald Reagan. He should be the nominee. The Republican nominee that is.

    January 18, 2008 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  16. TBR

    I'm neither for nor against Mr. Obama. My only question is.....whatever happened to free speech?? People should be able to say whatever they wish, if you don't like what he/she says, just don't vote for them. So much drama over simple words.

    January 18, 2008 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  17. Dan Cahill of Orlando, FL

    Good for Obama. Regan certainly changed the trajectory of America. Reagan certanly impacted American confidence, the economy and spread of democracies in the World. The criticism should be on Edwards, who is pandering to the left for a boost now when his campaign is failing. We need candidates who can reach out to the other side of the aisle. Edwards clearly can not do that. And Hillary is a lighting rod. Obama at least speaks of a willingness to reach out and listen to all Americans. This country is made up of more than just liberal democrats, and a good leader tries to bring people together, not push them apart. Reagan was such a leader, and I for one am glad to hear a democrat speak highly of him.

    January 18, 2008 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  18. pam Eugene OR

    Barack Obama's point was the CHANGE can happen. Not that what Regan did was good...but it was change. If people want change they can make it happen. John Edwards, behave yourself and you have a great shot at being VP.

    January 18, 2008 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  19. Desiree

    Obama is having an identity crisis, he doesn't know who he wants to be.

    January 18, 2008 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  20. Edd

    Reagan DID change the world, good or bad depends on your partisan status. He ran up the deficit and ran the USSR out of business. He favored the rich and in the long run made things previously available to only the elite available to the poor. (Trickle down worked better then) He was the candidate of change when an embarressing Democrat (Carter) left the nation in a despairing mess. Again, like JFK, your party affiliation determines your love or hate of the man.

    January 18, 2008 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  21. Kurt

    Barack Obama is too intelligent for the average voter or candidate it appears. This entire campaign has been spent analyzing trivial, superficial things with the tough questions not being asked.

    "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."

    Did anyone read that part?

    I am sorely disappointed in Edwards who knows better.

    January 18, 2008 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  22. Libertarian

    Ann Coulter was right on, John Edwards is a WUSSY, his wife has all the BALLS in their family – he's scum of the earth, making his $ suing OBGYN's for malpractice – now malpractice is so high women have to drive hours to get prenatal treatment.

    Edwards, you couldn't fill half of Reagan's jockstrap, you LOSER. Running for president since you don't have a JOB anymore! LOL

    Well, it"s obvious you're running to be Obama's Veep now anyway, since Obama will be the Veep if HRC wins the Socialist Party nomination.

    January 18, 2008 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  23. Frank

    Reagan did, indeed, change America – but entirely for the worse. We are still struggling against the consequences of that administration. And most Democrats are looking for someone who will continue that fight. The only Democrats who will respond positively to remarks like Obama's are those who aren't old enough to know better. To the rest of us, he sounds like an appeaser.

    January 18, 2008 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  24. Bluebelle

    Go Edwards.
    Ronald Reagan cared nothing for the ordinary Joe. Though I did'nt hear Obama gush all over Reagan, I felt that as a Democrat, he should know better than to lionize a man in the Republican Party. There were far many more great Democrat leaders that he could have used. I felt that he was pandering to independents and unhappy Republicans. He should go fishing somewhere else

    January 18, 2008 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  25. js

    Why don't voters actually take advantage of the writer's strike and do something intelligent for a change, like, perhaps read an intelligently written book or two by Obama or anybody else that is not obviously derogatory and blatantly biased. Then you will be able to make an informed decision, and be able to keep all these mud-slinging tactics in perspective.

    Otherwise, you are basically telling Big Media that you are fine with the negativity, keep it coming, this is what the people want.....and inadvertently helping the other side win by turning off voters. Intelligent discourse is good, negativity and inflammatory rhetoric is bad....the powers that be came to power on ignorance, ie. swiftboat b.s.....etc....if we forget history, we are doomed to repeat it.......

    January 18, 2008 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27