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. Paul S.

    What can I say? This guy is the best. The real test is for the rest of us. Are we ready to accept somebody who understands how the game is played and yet refuses to play it? Who offers us an example of what a "different type of politics" looks like? Who appeals to the highest, not the lowest common denomenator?
    I think it was Nixon who said that people vote their fears, not their hopes. There is no reason that Barack can't win and be a real catalyst for change except that perhaps Nixon was right about us and Obama wrong. I'd sure like to think Barack is right.

    January 18, 2008 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  2. E, KY

    It disturbs me that some of you are allowed to vote when you can make the jump from Obama saying "Reagan changed the politcal landscape" to "I love Reagan."

    January 18, 2008 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  3. Howard Hewlett Des Moines IA

    Although I entirely disagree with what Reagan did to "change" America there is not doubt that he certainly did change it when American needed a change. I felt that what Reagan did to change America caused irreperable damage and laid the foundation for the unspoken class war that exist in America today.

    But the question was rather simple, what president brought change to America. It did not ask whether it was a positive or negative change. The only people that will make a deal of this are the Edwards camp which represents the radical left wing of the party. I will concede that I like Edwards message but he is not running for president of the Democractic party he is running for president of the United States.

    This shows how Obama is now running a nation campaign for it looks more and more as if Clinton and Edwards are merely trying to delay the inevitable.

    January 18, 2008 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  4. Chris, Middletown, CT

    Does Edwards realize that the majority of Americans are sick of unions gouging this country?? Does he understand that the teachers union (who contributes heavily to the Democrats) fights education reform – and because they won't allow merit based pay...the only way to shine a light on the bad ones was No Child Left Behind??

    Who is for unions? Detroit? thank UAW for emptying that city while gouging the companies into bankruptcy....I think America wants to end unions...

    January 18, 2008 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  5. me

    Let's see Regan legacy of change and uniting and hope, NAFTA, his experience former Gov of Cal! Obama talk of change and uniting and hope, none, his experience, running for higher office without serving terms fully in any position elected, always campaigning for higher office! Regan record of change proven he went into the Presidency at least having made changes when in office, Obama record of change, well his work for change was solely in changing his position of power!

    January 18, 2008 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  6. Linda~n~Wisconsin

    1981 January: Ronald Reagan becomes the first U.S. President opposed to a constitutional amendment, which provides equal rights for women.

    I didn't like Reagan and I am not voting for Obama. As a woman, I am voting for a woman who can help women finally pass the 28th Amendment first proposed in 1923.

    January 18, 2008 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  7. Jackson

    Obama should be criticized for the Reagan comment ... during the Reagan years the "gap" between the rich and the middle class and poor became greater than any other time in history ... does he think we have forgotten this?

    January 18, 2008 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  8. Cat, Costa Mesa, CA

    Ronald Reagan is loved by many in this country. So why John, would you go and alienate yourself from those people? This election is too much about "democrats vs. republicans" when honestly we should just try to find someone to unite us! Granted, I'm a republican, and would never vote for Edwards in the first place, but he makes too many strong, stubborn minded statements that simply alienate half of this country.

    While I also disagree with Obama on several of his positions, I admire him for his ability, and DESIRE to bring this country together. Should certian repubs get the nomination, I might vote democrat for the first time ever.

    January 18, 2008 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  9. Tom - Dedham, Mass

    For someone who thinks he is so smart, Edwards can't read or his hearing is messed up.

    Obama was simply making the point that Reagan did indeed change the way our country thought, he didn't praise his policies or say he was the greatest guy in the world, just made a factual point.

    Go brush your hair, there has to be an ambulance that needs chasing.

    January 18, 2008 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  10. Lynn

    This is why I'm supporting Sen. Obama. He can see the big picture. John Edwards has been using the same, big fish, little fish speeches now for almost 7 years. He has been running for President since he and John Kerry lost and he is no further towards that goal now than he was then. There was absolutely nothing wrong with Mr. Obama's reference to Pres. Reagan. We need someone who can build a bridge in this country. Sen. Obama knows what it is going take to do that. This was brillant!

    January 18, 2008 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  11. Brennan - Seattle, WA

    He compared his ability to change the direction of the country to Reagan, not his policy decisions. I think Regan at the time represented a massive shift in our country and Barack believes that he can bring on a similar, in scope only, shift in this country. Whether you agree with Reagan's policies or not doesn't matter because Obama does not stand for Reagan policies he just stands for change. A massive change is needed in this country and Obama is the only one in the Democratic party who represents that.

    This is only a first step in Edwards' final attempt to grasp legitimacy. I expect to see more of the same in the coming months.

    January 18, 2008 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  12. Dave C - NJ


    We would have been better off if Anderson won in 1980 anyway.

    January 18, 2008 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  13. Fred, Reston Va

    Anyone who does not vote for Obama is a RACIST pure and simple!!!!!!!!

    January 18, 2008 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  14. PulSamsara

    Wake up people.

    Obama was speaking of the 'sea change' that was the 1980 Reagan election.
    and that the...
    2008 election will be another 'sea change'.

    Not in a way that Reagan might have appreciated ; )

    What's part of this is hard to understand ?
    Did you listen to the comment ?
    Are we moving to fast for you ?

    January 18, 2008 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  15. John,Va

    How about a reality check? what he said was 100% right. Regan was full of hope and yes he did change the way people viewed governement. Go head Obama speak your mind and unite your country. This comment may have gained you a lot of vote from republicans, and democrats are smart and they will see that you are trying to unite the country.

    January 18, 2008 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  16. Surrealist, Fort Myers, FL

    Obama is right!

    I am not a Republican, but I do appreciate and admire Reagan's ability to coalesce the mood of the nation into strategic change. At this time in our nation's history I believe the public mood is ready for another dramatic change.

    That said–I'm still unclear on who will be the best choice to lead that dramatic change in direction. None of them have real executive leadership resume's(except Richards and he's out of the race).

    Frankly, Obama and Edwards tend to inspire me with their independent spirit and commitment to running their campaigns in a grassroots fashion–with no significant PAC money–I like that.

    January 18, 2008 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  17. chude dublin

    listen folks ,obama is the best thing that can happen to America now! PLS STOP misquoting him. Just join the wagon for change for a better future of our kids and the world

    January 18, 2008 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  18. beverly hodge

    As an observer, I think Obama is fair, and that is where the Reagan comment came into the text. I have noticed on t.v., that he has amazing recall, if someone is commenting on that he had said, he just stops and recites per betem the speech or comment being referenced. I have also noticed that HRC will ask an opponet a question and the next day the oppondet's answer is used against them slightly out of content.. Listen to HRC re: what she is going to do for you/us, but listen more closely and it is really what we are going to do for her.,,,,,,, I am starting to believe that Obama is the more honest candidate, and Rommey when he says, if they have been in wash. and nothing has changed, why will moving into a new seat in wash. change things. HRC constantly tells us she has been in wash. 35 years-long enough, no,no, too long.

    January 18, 2008 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  19. Stopwatchinghardball, Rochester, NY

    Clinton didn't change America, he just showed how the governement can be run with surplusses instead of debt and putting 23 million jobs into the economy. I guess we can call Bush a change agent, because he turned around and did the opposite.

    I understand what Obama was saying, but even if you believe that, you don't praise Ronald Reagan if your a Democrat running for the nomination without expecting some backlash. Of, course people are going to take it the wrong way.

    I would just like to say, how's it feel when the media takes something you said and twisted it to make you look bad. Ask Hillary, she's been dealing with it since the campaign started.

    For the people who say, you don't have to hate all republicans. I don't hate Reagan as a man, I didn't know him. I hate his policies and everything he stood for. If you don't speak out against the policies that destroyed unions, bankrupted the middle class, did nothing for the poor, and sent this country into recession, then what kind of Democrat would I be. I hope, if Obama does get the nomination, he doesn't just give in to these kinds of policies so he can just say he is working with Republicans. He better stand up for Democratic principles.

    Hillary 08!

    January 18, 2008 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  20. A.C

    Obama is the brightest inspiration in politics today. As a democrat, I must say, Regan had his good sides. I differed a great deal with most of his politics. But when it came to changing the country's economic course, after the mess the previous adminstrations left the country in, Regan was a master. Additionally, anyone who really studies or lived the Regan error can not honestly deny that Regan gave American's and our Nation confidence and credibility again.

    Go OBAMA! I am with you all the way! Mr. President!

    January 18, 2008 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  21. Jason

    Everything Mr. Edwards says seems to somehow or another involve the words: "working people, unions, middle class, families" in some way or another. I think he just saw an opening and thought it might give him a last minute push among hard core dems that hate The Gipper and might swing their vote.
    As supporter or Mr. Obama I did kind of wince at his comments though, not because I don't neccessarily agree with the point he was trying to make, but because I knew it would cause the same kind of hoopla as every other little barb-trade in this whole Democratic race.
    I just hope the coverage stops here on this message board and doesn't become a "national sensation" story that would bring further blows to the Democratic party's campaign .

    January 18, 2008 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  22. Vince Los Angeles, CA

    Mark C. Eades

    Hear, hear Mark! I agreed with you completely...up until the part where you said you'll vote for Hillary in November if she's the nominee......I won't. I will change my party to Independant. I just couldn't associate with a party of non-thinkers.

    January 18, 2008 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  23. Jon, Charlotte NC

    Ronald Reagan ran up the deficit by tripling government spending and the military industrial complex

    how that is "fiscally conservative" is beyond me

    January 18, 2008 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  24. Jay

    You replaced "Obama Mocks Clinton" from direct facts with this out of context complaint. hmmm...Dosen't bill seem a bit angry these days. Maybe somethings blocking his way back to the white house

    January 18, 2008 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  25. boynla, LA, CA

    stick a fork in Obama...he's done.

    January 18, 2008 12:55 pm at 12:55 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