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. Glenn, Cary, NC

    It was nice of CNN Ticker Producer Alexander Mooney to remind us that Ronald Reagan was himself the "president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1947-52 and again in 1959." Can you say "Black List"?

    January 18, 2008 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  2. john


    Hell no, not with my vote when I have an alternative!

    January 18, 2008 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  3. Lynn

    John, you're right on the money! No more Bushes, and no more Clintons. The country are sick of all of them.

    January 18, 2008 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  4. ross

    you only see america from a national perspective , over here in the UK we get a very detailed look. the CLintons are respected and admired. Just because Hillary isnt always smiley or "happy clappy" doesnt mean that she cold and frosty. she take her job seriously and comands alot of respect from herself, a role model on a worldwide scale. she doesnt rely on the her campaign resembling a rock concert, euphoria is short lived and anti climatic, obama is not delivering and its only a matter of time before the euphoric atmosphere he has created wheres off.
    look at Maggie Thatcher a cold Iron lady who tamed the troublemakers and got the job done!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 18, 2008 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  5. Awaiting Moderation, USA

    Barack Obama is more than a candidate. Barack Obama is a movement. He appeals to those who are so desperate for a change; he appeals to those who want to be proud to be Americans again; he appeals to those who are hungry for a positive force in leadership. These are the same things that people were searching for when Reagan took office.

    January 18, 2008 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  6. Mike

    This is exactly why this country will never be able to move forward, because a person from one party can’t make reference about a person from another party. How are we to get anything done if we can’t talk about views from another political party? Maybe that’s why there are so many Independents voting, because we can see the good in either party. I do not see perfection in any one party’s views, but a combination of views that will make our country what it should be, “America”. Government by the people for the people, all of the people Democrat or Republican- black or white-male or female. Until we are able to work as equals in this country will never be able to lead anything.
    This is why Obama will unite our government leaders, because he will listen to everyone regardless of their political affiliation.

    January 18, 2008 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  7. Jay Graham, Dallas, TX

    As Rachel and Ross put it on their comments correctly, I have to add that Obama atleast should have shown some decency in acknowledging the fact that Bill Clinton was a better president for average middle class and african-americans. Was it phony that african-americans consider Bill as one of the black presidents? Or, is it Obama's recent actions to get more republican votes for general election? He has already pocketed all black votes and now is going for big fish.

    January 18, 2008 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  8. Alex

    I am a Democrat, but I like what he said about Reagan. I mean come on has party bickering so divided this country that you can't say, yea Reagan was an important President. Reagan was vital to the growth of this country I love Democrats, but Republicans are not always wrong and we needed a man like Reagan at the time when the country was slipping away under Democratic Presidents like Carter, who was a great man but not so great a President.

    January 18, 2008 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  9. Jenny, Paxton, MA

    do you see why the democratic party was missing the whole time the Iraq war was raging? the dems had no disagreement with the GOP on Bush's foreign policy, and they still offer no meaningful alternative, except criticizing Bush for "mismanaging the war" nott for "waging a criminal war". the democratic president could have bombed the hell out of Iraq quick and efficient, i suppose, and really broken their spirit for resistance and brought them on their knees. that would have been wonderful and called success, tax dollars well spent, body bags justified, iraqui collateral damage an acceptable price, right, you strong democrats?

    from all indications, this nation is going down the historical toilet.

    January 18, 2008 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  10. pam Eugene OR

    There is an enormous difference between Hillary and Barack! They are both democrats and that is were the similarity ends. Obama is honest, fresh, hopeful, and inspirational. HRC is the same, lame, corrupt, bought and paid for politician. She is yesterday news and yesterdays views. I want honesty and hope for a better world from my President.
    Obama/Edwards 08

    January 18, 2008 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  11. The Guy From Across the Way

    I've read some comments above and simultanously wonder what planet some of you are on, and are you taking any medication for, say, AADD?

    Edwards is a old-school demo who kisses union butt among others and equates anything Republican as evil and elitist. "I was swepping floors in factories as a kid and I feel your pain..." Blah, blah, blah...

    What we love about Obama is he sees past this old way of thinking about politics and just pointed out that Pres Reagan was a change agent in the right place at the right time.

    January 18, 2008 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  12. Nicholas in Atlanta

    Ya know, everyone is so quick to bash President Reagan for his misgivings, which he admittedly had plenty of. But you can't overlook the fact that the biggest change in geopolitics of our time; the fall of the Soviet Empire, was under his direct guidance. He had plenty of problems, but he also had his positive attributes.

    When you look back on Presidents, it should be with pride in what we have achieved to make us such a great nation to this day. If you want to dwell on every President's negative short-comings, don't forget to mention the sexual misconduct of a President who then lied under oath to the nation, while trying to redefine words in the english dictionary. I am, by no means, an ardent supporter of the Republican party. But fairness is fairness. We can either choose to dwell on the negative or learn from them and move on. Most of us agree, President Bush has given us PLENTY to learn from, but we also can't overlook the fact that a hideous dictator was removed from power during his tenure.

    The real question is where the candidates stand on the issues, NOT who they are able to show some admiration for. Obama did also at one time say he admired Clinton. She said she admired him. If politics weren't so negative, perhaps we'd have a better opportunity to learn where they stand, so we know what to believe. I guarantee if people had known how radical GW's beliefs were, we wouldn't be in this pickle we found ourselves in today. Dwell on the issues, not on the past!

    January 18, 2008 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  13. Goon

    Bill said this of Reagan after this death:

    “Hillary and I will always remember President Ronald Reagan for the way he personified the indomitable optimism of the American people, and for keeping America at the forefront of the fight for freedom for people everywhere…

    “We will always remember his tremendous capacity to inspire and comfort us in times of tragedy, …and we can rest assured that, as joyous a place as Heaven is, his wit and sunny disposition are making it an even brighter place to be.” President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Clinton.

    so its okay for Billary but not Obama. its only to say things like this shortly after their death?

    January 18, 2008 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  14. Sandy, St. Paul, MN

    Ronald Regan was a drug-addled Alzheimers victim during his presidential term. I used to wonder why the Republicans held him in such high regard, but after having a fool like Bush, I realized that the conservative hate machine prefers to have druggies, alcoholics and low-IQ candidates that are easy to control.

    January 18, 2008 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  15. John

    This affirms what Obama has been saying since the beginning. There is not a Republican and Democratic America, there is the United States of America. Obama is not running to be a 'Democratic' President. He is running to be an American President and Gob Bless him for it.

    P.S. I have been a Democrat my entire life.

    January 18, 2008 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  16. cjvwise1

    Reporters ponder why the citizens of the US do not make platform an important issue. I ask, "Why wound anyone worry about issues, when you cannot believe a word that is uttered? Lack of trust worthiness, dedication to pork and self interests is primary. We cannot worry about issues, just which person is less likely to steal away our lands and freedoms. My son lives in the "Romney manditory insurance state". The bill gives full power to the Insurance Companies to decide that his family of four policy must cost him $1000 per month because "THEY" decide he can afford it.
    There is no choice? Where is the logic?
    How can anyone afford that assessment on top of house payments, mtg taxes, fuel costs. I think Edwards made a great point in the NV debates when he asked Hillary and Obama what they thought the Insurance companies expected for thier contributions. It shows in Massachusetts and it will be everyones problem is they do not realize what power our representatives are granting to the Insurance companies.
    Here in WV they assess road tolls to upkeep the highway. But misappropriation of those funds made it priority for the Dems to increase fuel taxes for road repair the first week they were in power. Why don't they demand repayment of misappropriated funds?
    We all know the answer. The only issue on our minds is how do we survive, despite the corruption in our capitals? It seems to me that someone would realize we have just about reached our saturation point for corruption. We are a sinking ship and we are soon going down if someone does not step up to the plate and "DEMAND" accountablility.
    When Democrates can look into the camera with a straight face and say, the Billions of dollars in pork attached to a bill is nothing, then complain Social Security is failing, we need a reality check.
    And while I am at it! Why does no one ask the Clintons about their Camen Is accounts or their investments in the Domican Republic?

    January 18, 2008 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  17. ED WinterPark fl

    You screwed up Barack!!!!!! You declared yourself to be another GRADE B MOVIE STAR. this guy Reagan who dismissed 40 yrs of millions of american military fighting the cold war to try and get credit for TAKE DOWN THIS WALL comment. I myself was one of those millions who chased russian planes ,subs secret espionge attempts, visiting communist countries to show the american flag. these were just miniscule events that was done to break the Russian bank so that this Reagan guy would steal the credit, the disaster of air controllers union that he broke is still today causing problems in this country and now you want to associate yourself as a Reaganesq clone. this is beginning to show your lack of experience to lead this country.I could have voted for you if you became the candidate but i have a different thought now. as a 78 year old 22yr military veteran who seldom ever missed an election and always voted democrat am having second thoughts about you as a candidate and will probably sit this one out if you become the ressurection of REAGAN. GOD HELP AMERICA!!!!!!

    January 18, 2008 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  18. Tom Davie

    You guys dont get it.

    We americans are IDIOTS.

    We throw away our vote for STUPID reasons. We dont look at the issues. We look at the SPIN.


    To all those who THINK the issues matter.

    How much has it mattered in the SLIGHTEST since this began?


    January 18, 2008 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  19. Tim Calhoun '08, Moreno Valley, CA

    I see what Edwards is trying to do...but Obama is absolutely right. Ronald Reagan, while misguided on many, many issues, DID fundamentally change the trajectory of the nation. Furthermore, he was able to rally a good majority of the country behind him. You don't win two landslide elections without getting the people behind you. Reagan won his second election with 49 STATES, and 58% OF THE POPULAR VOTE.

    Can you imagine that happening today?

    I often think Obama has the ability to do this because of his pragmatic approach to issues and his charismatic appeal. A Democrat is not going to rally the country behind him/her using the politics of fear or needless personal attacks. Obama is not a polarizing figure the way Hillary Clinton is, and that's simply not going to change by November. We've known Hillary for 16 years and we know where we stand on her. I have seen no evidence to suggest she can bring this country together to rally behind her.

    Most presidents are an "agent of change" in some way or another...especially when the pendulum swings and the party in the White House changes. George W. Bush has changed the function of the presidency more than any other president in modern history. Unfortunately for us, it's been in the absolute worst ways possible.

    January 18, 2008 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  20. Rogb2001

    Is that why he's embracing Reagan... who tried to kill the dept of education along with early childhood programs, repeal affimative action, created the largest deficit in history (until Bush), etc, etc. Obama platitudes, empty platitudes... 'We're the United States of America'... 'things are broke – we -gotta fix 'em'... 'they have cynical experience, we got hope for change'... 'If you have Washington experience (e.g., institutionalizing democratic ideals), you are part of the problem'... Pull-eeese! Do yourself a favor and get beyond his rehtoric and look at the specifics of their plans!

    January 18, 2008 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  21. Janel, St. Paul, MN

    Barack,You said it right!Certainly Reagan was a popular president who accomplished many things, BUT he wasn't without fault.I think many people think of Reagon romatically. . .he was a decent fellow, handsome and with a vision. But HE didn't accomplish his goals.BUT YOU WILL! For many of the people are behind this. We ARE ready for a change! You are our hope!

    January 18, 2008 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  22. Anonymous


    January 18, 2008 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  23. W.A. Davis

    Right on, John!! NO MORE CLINTONS - STOP THIS TREND!!! This country has so many more of us middle-class citizens and we are the ones that need to speak up and get involved this year if WE want change!!

    Go America! Go Obama!

    January 18, 2008 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
  24. Brent

    Heaven forbid someone try to be cordial and diplomatic with the other party. The reaction from the partisan scumbags in Obama's own party shows what happens when you try to be a uniter and not a divider.

    I swear, for all the talk about the Sunni vs. Shiite warfare going on in Iraq, everyone seems to be overlooking the fact that we're on the verge of the very same thing here, only over political rather than religious difference. The idiots on both far ends of the political spectrum have gotten so extreme with their divisiveness that now we can't simply disagree with each other on some issues but agree on others. It's gotten to where if someone doesn't buy a party's rhetoric hook, line, and sinker, the acolytes of that party must hate that person and try to do everything in their power to run them down and destroy them.

    And so much of the stuff is so petty. God, when Huckabee's son was in a car wreck a few weeks ago, seeing all the juvenile jerks here in the political ticker posting the vilest ill-wishes for that family was so disgusting. And there's a history of that sort of trash from extremists in both parties. Why do you have to hate those who disagree with you?

    Hillary Clinton is the worst. Every time she talks, every word that comes out of her mouth is divisive and venomous. She does everything she can to destroy those who come between her and power. Of course, she does this through surrogates and then denies any involvement, but such tactics don't fool anyone. As a moderate conservative, I disagree with both her and Obama on numerous policy issues, but the reason why I could vote for Obama but never for her is that when Obama talks, I don't feel like he personally hates those such as myself who don't happen to agree with him on every specific issue.

    That's why I hope it's Obama vs. McCain in November. Either one would be a win for a America, and a step away from all this hateful partisan divisiveness that threatens to tear this country in half.

    January 18, 2008 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  25. ross

    obama is cool and popular , but where are his ideas , his passion is for change. we have not yet heard how he wil change the usa. hillary is constient and a valuable resource, she is americas future. obama would make a good vice president. hillary like bill has gotton results and implemented change. it really hurts to see a talented woman like hillary been butchered in a public way. americans vote with their heart as oppossed to their head, this is evident with G Bush being elected and reelected.

    January 18, 2008 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
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