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. Brad

    So... in all this wasted political rhetoric and bickering, any solutions to real problems or should we just continue this nonsense?

    January 18, 2008 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  2. John, CA

    Obama needs to apologize to Clinton. After all, he did help Obama get elected, and if it wasn't for the changes Clinton brought about during his presidency,
    Obama wouldn't be in the position he's in today. Obama is very typical of
    members of his generation. He has an arrogance that presupposes he got to
    where he is today by himself, and that he owes nothing to those who blazed the trail before him. The Clintons helped him get elected AFTER they spent 8 years improving the lives of African-Americans. Hillary even mentored him when he first came into the Senate. And THIS is how he repays them and the country? If he is that self-serving, how can you believe anything that he's saying? Look at his actions. They speak a lot louder than his hollow words do. I, for one, think he is a scumbag based on his actions and how he treats those who helped him get to where he is. For that reason, I have no respect for the man, nor for his power-hungry wife. He is low-class, and not because of the color of his skin, but because of the (lack of) content of his character.

    January 18, 2008 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  3. 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 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  4. David Ware, Nouakchott, Mauritania

    Edwards is totally right. People need to wake up here and vote this man in office.

    January 18, 2008 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  5. Ray

    Obama should not compaire himself to any, he is all talk. Hes going to loose in Nevada.

    January 18, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  6. columbus

    So what if President Reagan didn't go along with the Unions? Those Unions are worthless and I know a lot of people who say they are being forced to be in a Union and hate it.

    When is Edwards going to hang it up? Nobody wants the guy! At least John Kerry got the message loud and clear! Wake up Edwards!

    January 18, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  7. Freddie Jax,FL

    Obama is just simply jealous of Ronald Reagan. He cannot even begin to draw the faintest of parallels to a man as strong as President Reagan was. In fact, Obama will be just the opposite...he will allow any third world country walk all over us in an effort to "improve our standing in the world community". We will once again be the laughing stock of the world as we were during the Clinton years, and rogue countries such as Iran will be praising Allah left and right if they see a Democrat in the White House. Countries like Iran will know they can and will literally get away with murder and know that the US will simply stick our heads in the sand and hope the United Nations can overcome its impotence. God help the US if a democrat takes over as commander in chief.

    January 18, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  8. Lee

    Mr. Obama was making an historical observation of the 1980 Election and the mood of the country back then. If you were old enough to remember that election or voted in that election, you will remember how tired the country was of Jimmy Carter, the Iran hostage crisis, the high oil and gas prices, double digit inflation, double digit mortgage rates, high unemployment rates,how to fund Social Security, and low esteem for national defense and around the world. Sounds a little familiar doesn't it? The country was in the mood for change, but toward conservative values, smaller government, tax cuts, increased defense spending, "Voodoo Economics" it was called by George Bush Sr., the future Reagan vice-president and competitor for the Republican nomination in 1980. There was also support for something other than the Republican and Democratic parties.Independent candidate John Anderson gave voters a third party choice and received about 13 percent of the popular vote. President Reagan won the election in a landslide.
    Mr. Obama's point is that the during the 1980 election, the country was ready for big changes and new ideas and that the status quo was not going to move the country forward. He was not endorsing the legacy of President Reagan or the conservative movement. Every few years the country tires of the party in power and the political pendulum swings back and forth between the Republicans and Democrats. Political rivals like to twist the words of their opponents and use them to their advantage. Mr. Obama's problem is that sometimes he is too honest and opens up opportunities for his opponents to twist his intended meaning. Of course, he does the same to his opponents and all politicians do this. It's called Politics.

    January 18, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  9. shaun

    This was a great post by ace so here it goes again. This is the kind of change we need; obama is the type of person that will unite this country

    ACE, Denver January 18, 2008 12:29 pm ET

    I'm an Obama supporter and Ronald Reagan wasn't one of my favorite presidents either, however, this is just another example of how party lines don't blind Barack Obama. If he sees an admirable quality in someone that's of another party, why can't he acknowledge that positive element? Oh, I forgot, because republicans are horrible people and not one republican president has ever offered anything positive to our nation…RIGHT…That's ridiculous and that just goes to show how divided our country is, so that a democrat can NEVER draw ANY comparisons to a republican or else he is completely out of line and out of touch with our party. It's us versus them, right?

    Please, Senator Obama, gain the nomination and win the presidency so the American people can begin to heal and break down the barriers that seem to prevent us from making any progress.

    January 18, 2008 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  10. arun

    I love it how Obama has the audacity to talk about the legacy of Bill Clinton. Someone who led this country for 8 years. I'm sorry Barack, you can and never will be Bill Clinton. Get over it. I believe your words are empty. At least Bill backed it up – the only actions your words have led to:

    is that Politicians can take lobbyists bribes standing up rather than sitting down.

    Wow, inspirational, great work.

    Your voting record in the Senate is even better as you have missed more than 75% of your votes –

    "Hi, I'm Barack Obama, and I have twice as many indifferent and non-present votes because I'm a pansy that doesn't take stances on issues. But, I will say, change, change, change to death but will never give you specifics. Please, this man is a used car salesman and I've seen it all.

    Oh yes, I am black. And simply because you vote for Hillary does not mean you are racist in the democratic party.

    January 18, 2008 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  11. T.R.

    John Edwards isn't fooling anyone. I am the CHIEF STEWARD at my worksite, a UNION MAN to my core, and I see his pandering for what it is. Senator Obama merely stated an accepted fact – Ronald Reagan unified the Republican Party in 1980. Obama did not say he agreed with Reagan's politics, he said that the country was ready for his brand of change at the time.

    So, Johnny Boy, as much as wanted you to get the nomination in 2004, I am extremely disappointed that you would stand in the way of progress.

    January 18, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  12. case

    The misinterpretations of obama's statement is testiment of how shallow American political discourse has become. May here are attacking him because he said Reagan... not even bothering to examine the meaning of what he said. He did not say Reagon's policies were good. He did not praise his legacy but simply stated he changed the course of American Politics. I would have been just as accurate had he said: FDR changed the trajectory of American politics. This was an academic accessment. People.... after GW Bush aren't we ready to drop anti-intellectuallism and respect a true thinker?

    January 18, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  13. Arthur

    To the person who said labor unions are corrupt. I am a union member along with millions of other Americans, and I find your remarks uninformed and insulting. To categorize all unions as corrupt is just stupid. Unions are the backbone of the American workforce. Without unions you would not have decent wages or benefits or job security. Unions were important at one time because of slave wages and terrible working conditions. They are equally important now for other reasons. Reagan was anti union and anti worker, unless you forgot about when he fired the air traffic controllers?

    Members of my union (Vermont State Employees) still have a pension that is fully funded by the way, instead of a 'defined contribution' plan like many places. We have decent health and dental insurance and prescription coverage. We pay our fair share and yes our premiums have been going up by double digits just like everyone else, so don't reply with some whining about government workers getting a free ride. Most of us are already doing the work of two or three people. Without our union to protect our rights our current Republican Governor Jim Douglas would slash our benefits and lay off workers because Vermont is a "hire and fire" state like some others I'm sure; meaning employees have virtually no rights at all. Douglas like Reagan is basically anti government. He will stop at almost nothing to find new ways to eliminate government programs and workers regardless of any cost benefit, or care about the consequences.

    I would never characterize Reagan as anything but the last worst President before the current one!

    Edwards was right to criticize Obama for his remarks. No Democrat should be holding up Reagan as an example of anything. If for no other reason than George W. Bush thinks he is the heir to Reaganomics.

    January 18, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  14. Teacher

    ra ra ra.................Obama .He will run out of gas in the end just like the Dallas Cowboys did in football this year.Politics is a tough game and only the Best will be around for the big Game.

    January 18, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  15. Debby

    Go Edwards! Reagan was bad news for working people. Edwards understands that. While I would like to see our country united, we need to realize that there is a difference between the two parties. The republicans have become a party all about the wealthy and powerful – the haves. Reagan was all about the haves. I want a president who cares about the have nots and the have less also. Admiration of Reagan by a preidential contender makes me very nervous. Edwards is my man for president.

    January 18, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  16. beverly H

    Tyler & Pam,Long Beach Cal one example of Obama's work in Illinois he got Dem and Rep together and passed an ethic bill, and Pam I believe Sentor Durbin of Illinoia was a mentor to Obama. I find it very interesting how many of you can not read or is comphensation that is the problem ?

    January 18, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  17. diasporeanul

    Wow, I'm amazed that so many fellow democrats are so out of touch with reality!
    What is wrong with saying that Ronald Reagan's presidency marked a turning point of history? Remember the Soviet Union fell due to his policies, which really changed the world from 2 war-prone power blocks to a move towards democracy in most countries.

    Are we so politically correct that one can not even pronounce his name? (btw Obama did not even say he liked some of his policies. Heaven would have fallen down on earth if he did, of course... :-).

    How can we expect even the slightest bit of honesty from these candidates, when even something absolutely obvious like this cannot be said in public? I must say, Edwards is just as bit as bad as Clinton in partisan, fractional politics and mud-slinging.

    Really incredible. I'm curious, is Abe Lincoln OK cite in this campaign, or is that also "sensitive" for the spin doctors? (he was republican, I believe...)

    January 18, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  18. Tom, Boston MA

    so, if Obama is for Reagan type change that has become the mainstream, where is the change he's talking about?

    don't even try to tell us that his website has his plans. it's full of truncated empty rhetoric. i have a friend who is in love with Obama, and he admitted Obama's website doesn't relally give much specifics of what kind of change and how to get there.

    January 18, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  19. Kay

    Obama does NOT want to be like Reagan. Otherwise, he would have been running in the Republican Party. Folks, WAKE UP and do not swallow what Ewards and Hilary tell you hook, nail and sinker. Remember the Nevada debate? What are the weaknesses of Edwards and Hillary? Were you happy with those answers compared to the truth as told by Obama?

    Obama was referring to how Reagan in 1980 united the country. He won that election by appealing to Independents and even some Democrats because they saw that he was a Uniter. If you are too young to know, that is the FACT. Mind you, Obama was referring to the 1980 ELECTIONS, not the 1984 elections. Obama was not referring to Reagan's policies, neither did he say his change would be like Reagan's policies. Hillary and Edwards are playing catch up to Obama, and they are twisting his words along the way to fool those who don't understand English or are lazy to pay attention. Hilary is a divider, and so is Edwards. The Republicans are praying for Hillary to win and they will unite and make sure she does not go back to the WH. Wake up America!!!!

    January 18, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  20. Tom, Boston MA

    Obama's so-called "grass-root movement" is movement toward the middle, the mainstream of the reagan democrats and the clinton conservatives, those who put Bush in the WH twice, those who have supported the crimes against humanity for a few more bucks in their pockets and then cry "i'm an innocent civilian" when caught.

    google "Democracy Now" and get real information and alternative persepctive!!!

    Obama, Clinton, what's the difference? no change will come unless the people's heart and mind change.

    January 18, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  21. Dennis

    These arguments are so elementary and meaningless. The next president of the U.S.A. is going to have a serious job to assume when s/he takes office. The current issues at hand (foreclosures, jobs and unemployment, energy, and every U.S. domestic issue that you can imagine), which have been ignored over the past nearly 8 years, will have a direct impact on us all if attention is not given to these matters. So to argue about meaningless, insignificant issues, about what s/he said should not be in the headlines—but what each of these individuals are proposing to do if (when) they become president should be in the discussions. I would suggest that people who do not know who to vote for, or why some of you are voting for who you are voting for, to visit each of the candidate’s websites to gather information about what their respective proposal(s) on how they plan to address the issues of the U.S. Woman, Black Man—everyone knows that already…. And quite frankly, that is not going to matter when the dust settles. Who ever it is, they will not be doing this alone. Are they going to bring the right people together at the table to fix the problems that the U.S. is facing? Is it going to be an inclusive process or top secret? Is the process going to affect a select few, or the whole nation? If we can not get past the elementary arguments, biases, and fantasies that we all thrive on, then on Jan 2009, we will be dumbfounded after we awaken out of our dreams and realized the decision I made was illogical. We are living in very serious times, and if people don’t grasp that concept, and realize who’s dealing the cards on your behalf, then you really shouldn’t be voting anyway. Think!!!

    January 18, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  22. Dave

    allan January 18, 2008 3:13 pm ET

    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.

    allan, your point please. And in complete sentences if possible.

    January 18, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  23. Hillary'08

    If you're undecided on Obama or Clinton, ask yourself if you would rather have a great talker, or someone with proven experience for leadership. IF you're tired of just great talk or inspirational promises, vote for Hillary!
    It is so clear to me its painful!!!!

    I don't want someone who can just talk. When it gets down to business here or abroad, talk is NOT what this country needs...

    it is time for ACTION.

    January 18, 2008 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  24. Max

    Reagan did change things, and he was a jerk- what did Obama say that was contradictory to that?

    These Obama hits are ticky tack. Bring some real stuff please.

    January 18, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  25. Harry, Michigan

    Praising Reagan without mentioning that the philosophical differences seems careless and a bit strange; you don't hear Republicans using Bill Clinton as an example to follow. I think Obama walked into this one much as Hillary walked into a mess with the Rev. King statement.
    Edwards was right to note Obama's folly. He is the only candidate in either party to stick to the topic of what is hurting America and what he plans to do about it. The other candidates overreach with lengthy analysis of suble points, ultimately sticking their foot in their collective mouths.
    None of the candidates should expect the Republican attack machine to give a pass on gaffes in the general election.

    January 18, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
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