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. Jenn

    You all are missing the point. If Obama has a case of FOOT IN MOUTH DISEASE, the voters need to know about this now. The Republicans will "eat him alive" in the general election.

    2 good examples this week of political inexperience.

    1. Obama's Reagan comment
    2. Obama's debate answer of "unorganized/messy desk"-the other 2 candidates were smart enough to not say anything that could be used against them.

    How do you think Obama is going to do in a general election debate? When he grows up then he can be President.

    Edwards 08

    January 18, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  2. Phil of Colorado

    I'm still not sure about Obama, but this was a cheap shot by Edwards. There is little doubt that Ronald Reagan had the pulse on the American citizens. That doesn't mean that Obama shares the same view on policies, but rather than Obama believes that he also has a sensitivity to the concerns of the bulk of Americans. I am more concerned by Edward's distortion of the facts than Obama's reference to an event that depicted the importance of listening to the American people.

    January 18, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  3. David from Texas

    For a candidate running for the Democratic nomination to mention a former Republican president in any positive fashion is a slap in my face. In my opinion, this is done in General Election to gain crossover voters-not in the nomination process. I would say this regardless of who it is-not just Obama.

    January 18, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  4. Eric

    This is why we need to improve the state of our education. So many people lacking critical reading and critical thinking skills. To think that 'Reagan changed the political landscape' implies 'I luv Regan' is simply irrational.

    January 18, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  5. Tony A, Goodyear AZ

    Mr. Obama is showing himself to be like every other politician out there with his wistful alignment to the late ex-president. He shows he can be rather adept as talking out of both sides of his mouth. What the hell, he's a politician.

    January 18, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  6. cc, Chicago

    There was a comment that Sen. Clinton was just discussing history about MLK and Johnson. Her comment was a response to Sen. Obama's comment about similar types of political leadership to bring to the table TODAY, as in RIGHT NOW. Blacks are no longer disenfranchised. They can wield the emancipation pen without the aid of a white liberal. It is absolutely impossible to conclude that she was doing anything other than stoking the flames of the black population's skepticism about the electability of a black candidate to the presidency. That doesn't mean she hasn't done alot for the black community. She clearly has. But seriously, that's not the same thing as throwing incendiary comments out there for the purpose of getting elected. Many americans saw through this as her national poll numbers were hurt more than any other candidate in the aftermath of the bickering.

    January 18, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  7. Nat

    Okay Mr. Obama just lost a lot of my support when he said Regan was such a change agent.......yes he was only for the very wealthy. So I guess if you're wealthy then Regan was a fine President. I agree w/ what John Edwards said about Regan. I could not have said it better Mr. Edwards – “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.”

    January 18, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  8. SB

    He said that Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America.

    It is a true statement.


    January 18, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  9. Ken

    I believe Reagan was president of the Screen Actors Guild at one time so he had more union experience than John Edwards.

    January 18, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  10. Kelly

    Obviously Reagan created a sea change, or it wouldn't have sparked such a debate! I think that's all that Obama is saying–Reagan sensed the desire for change, and he created it. Whether or not you agree with the change is immaterial.

    Also, aren't you tired of typical politicians with their canned answers? Not even a moment to pause before they spew whatever it is they think you want to hear? I'll take Obama over that any day.

    Lastly, I'm a Jets fan (I know–spare the comments, but I married a Jets fan so hush up,) but I think that Peyton Manning is an extraordinary quarterback. Does that make me a Colts fan?

    Learn some critical thinking, people. Seriously–take a course or something.

    Barack the vote! Obama 08.

    January 18, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  11. Jose Card - Independent

    Obama's praising Reagan will attract Independents like myself.

    This comment came from his honesty, which should be bipartisan.

    January 18, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  12. john smith

    One question with reference to this Obama-Reagan business. Suppose some asks you if Hitler changed Germany and Lenin changed Russia. If you answer yes (if you say no then we have another even more serious problem), does that mean that I should conclude you favor/admire or whatever Hitler or Stalin. Of course not–that would be ridiculous on my part. So did Reagan change America? Of course he did and not in a good way. But all Obama said is he changed America, nothing more.

    January 18, 2008 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  13. :( Billy

    I am a Obama supporter, but I agree in this with you tom:

    ...no change will come unless the people's heart and mind change

    Brasil te ama Obama

    January 18, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  14. JohnS


    Well, is this not the type of change that Obama has been calling for even BEFORE Hillary FOUND her own voice as a person?

    As a strong democrat, I credit Regan for some of the changes he brought about in the World. The U.S. held great respect, the Soviet Union gave in etc., all these - thanks to Reagn as much as I disagreed with several of his domestic POLICIES.

    The U.S. started to lose her respect internally and externally due to the Clinton era. In fact, the democtic party has been losing to the republicans for quite some time now because of the Clinton era. No one will ever convince me that Hillary will REPLICATE some of Bill's economic policies; we must be daydreaming if we think that she will actually do so.

    Now, history teaches us well that Hiilary will continue to divide this nation, and Bill will continue his sense of marital problems. Let us wait until the republicans start to call for the opening of the Clinton ARCHIVES!!!!!! Then, the nation and the democrats will be, again, sorry for NOT learning from their MISTAKES of the past scandals!!!!!!! Only Obama can heal the sins of the past that we have suffered; this would be real change.

    January 18, 2008 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  15. Not being fooled

    I think what Senator Obama forgot to add when he said Ronald Regan was an agent of change, that it was a horrible, horrible change.

    Ronald Reagan ran as an agent of change and he nearly broke our country in two. George W. Bush ran as an outsider to the political world, with little to no political experaince. Sound familar?

    Senator Obama openly embraces and embodies both of these "qualities". The question becomes what kind of change would he bring? How can a man with little to no experaince in politics make a positive change for our country?

    If you want the answer look at what our current President has done to our country through ignorance and inexperaince.

    Don't allow yourselves to be taken over by his engaing, charismatic personality. Look at his voting record or rather the complete lack thereof,. His entire political career is one of standing in the middle afraid of taking a stand and voting one way or the other, because he terrified of offending someone.

    He is not ready for this yet. Clinton 08, Obama 16

    January 18, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  16. Ed

    I just cant believe what I am hearing about obama statements concerning Ronald Reagan.If I remember right it was Reagan who started taxing unemployment and to make his administrations unemployement numbers look better made the armed forces part of the working public. Also decided not to count people who are off unemplyement and still have no job its like they dropped off the earth.I was thinking about voting for Obama but not now no way!!!! He is just not ready yet

    January 18, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  17. Garry Lemons, Arkansas

    So Obama has made great strides in the black population of America since the race card was thrown out? hmmnnnnn GO figure
    JUST another example of a country being divided, first by Bush and now this.
    The Democratic BS that is going on in the media is ludicrous! They bash Clinton but heap praise on a man who didn't take time to show up and vote in the Senate, who has no real experience as a leader, but let him say something about Clintons MLK comment that was completely taken out of context B Y THE MEDIA and used as a weapon to undermine her.
    THIS IS WHY THE REPUBLICANS will retain the White House..you fools are so taken in by his BS and the medias BS that it will divide the Democratic Party even more. As I will NOT vote for Obama ! I will switch to McCain just to keep him out.

    The Golden Child is NOT Obama! He is quickly becoming a tool to divide , yet again!

    January 18, 2008 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  18. David

    I'm happy to see Obama trying to unify the country with comments that cross the left-right political gridlock of today. Sadly, the usual Clintonian politics of divide and counqer will probably prevail only to lose the general election.

    January 18, 2008 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  19. wthwah

    Open Letter to Mr. Edwards.

    Please, oh please, just drop out of the race now. You are embarrasing yourself and the Democratic party. You have no chance, none, nada, nyet, of winning. You're not half the man Obama is. You're even less of a man then Hillary is.

    You don't a plan, all yo do is attack and use buzz words.

    Say good nice Gracie...

    January 18, 2008 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  20. Charles Francis

    Mr. Mooney thought he could get away with tacking on an exculpatory line for the "Great Communicator" at the end of this article. Sure, Reagan was once a union official–but, his legacy is as an "Union Buster", from his days at General Electric onward. He was possibly the must destructive to the welfare of working people of any American President, ever.

    He also, during his stint as governor, damaged California beyond repair by emptying the mental hospitals, turning serious ill people out on the streets, initiating the pathetic spectacle that now blights most U.S. city's downtown thoroughfares. He started the gutting of the state's excellent higher educational system by putting people in charge of it who thought it was turning out to many "liberals." He was guilty of monumental crimes against Latin American nations and he was the granddaddy of the criminal conspiracy, Contra Gate. That he is the best that the conservatives can come up as a political hero shows you how morally bankrupt they are.

    January 18, 2008 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  21. Chris - Orlando

    I accept Obama's explanation, that he simply meant Reagan changed the political landscape by tapping into America's desire for change at the time. It doesn't have to be read as praise for Ronald Reagan (though Obama could have avoided the controversy by making that cleare at the time).

    January 18, 2008 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  22. Marsha

    NObama has referenced his admiration for Reagan before. How can anyone suppor this man as a DEMOCRATIC presidential candidate. And CNN I don't understand why you don't allow commenting on the other two articles about NObama. Are you trying to throw the race in his direction? I'll be surprised if you even let this comment go up, considering anything else I've posted that appears anti-Obama or "race" sensitive in the least bit isn't allowed to post.

    January 18, 2008 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  23. john

    Reagan was one of this country's greatest presidents. George Bush, Bill Clinton, and GWB had trouble following Reagan's accomplishments. He new exactly what he wanted to do and he did it. The economic growth of the country over the last 28 years and the fall of the Soviet Union changed the course of the country for the better. Reagan won every state except Minnesota in 1984. He demonstrared strong leadership both home and abroad. None of the presidents after him have been even close to what Reagan accomplished.

    The Democratic Party has been out of touch with this country for 40 years. They have won just 3 elections since 1964. 1976, 1992, and 1996. Both democrats elected were moderate former southern governors who were able to win their own state and a couple others in the south. Hillary Clinton, Obama, and Edwards are not moderate or governors of a southern state. They better stop wasting their time bashing Bush and the Republicans and tell the country what THEY are gonna do to fix the problems. We all know the problems.......Who is gonna fix those problems will be the next president. Until they can solve problems without raising taxes, the country will take the safe pick for their wallets and that is a conservative republican with executive branch experience. Its still the economy and who can grow it.

    January 18, 2008 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  24. Nalla

    More people HATE Hillary than those who like her

    No one hates Obama and those who support him, love him, admire and adore him for what he is.

    He is truly inspirational to the masses and will get more done and will use the collective experience of the millions, instead of the slick willie and his old cronies.

    Go figure, Go Obama

    January 18, 2008 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  25. Jen Cedar Falls, IA

    Fine, Clintonites and Edwardians:
    You don't want people to reach across aisles and work together for the good of the country?
    Too bad for you,
    The rest of us in this great country do.

    Therefore, we should support Romney or Obama. I wish like heck we could have them both together. They could actually talk and LISTEN to leaders of other countries and get something constructive done in this world by means of Intelligence, Integrity, Humility and Hard Work.

    We need to listen to each other and get
    off the hate train of Bush/Clinton politics.

    This isn't about a woman president, or making the history books, it's about the uniting of our country and the healing of our world.

    January 18, 2008 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
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