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. Proud Independant Free Tejano

    Here's a toast to the very few American Hero's running in this race for the Presidency...the very few who BELIEVE in America...who inspire, who are positive, and give us hope for a bright future.. .. as oposed to all the vile, dispicable, underhanded partisanship and backstabbing propaganda torrents spewed from the left and the right's "establishment", "insider" candidates..

    Here's to those very few candidates who, LIKE RONALD REAGAN... can UNITE the UNITED STATES of AMERICA again!!!! Who can put the broken pieces back together and heal us as a nation...ROMNEY and OBAMA!!!

    I SO desperately hope that America gets one or the other of these two fine candidates as our next President. We desperately need them right now.

    The entrenched bitterness, and devisiveness of the Clinton/McCain old stuffy wealthy privileged elitist Washington insiders who care more for their own bank accounts and sense of entitlement to eternal power and control over US, the PEOPLE (and our money/lives) needs to be stopped DEAD...and NOW!!!

    OBAMA/ROMNEY in 2008!!! 🙂 WOOO HOOO!!!!

    January 18, 2008 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  2. Baffled by Continuing ignorance

    Snagged from another site –

    Here's the full context of what Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, told the editorial board of the Reno Gazette-Journal, in which he had the temerity to assert that Republicans don't necessarily have cloven hooves.

    Asked how his being the nominee might help down-ballot candidates, such as Senators and Congressmen, get elected, he said: "If I'm the nominee, one thing I'm convinced about, I will have a better chance of bringing in people of like mind. One of the things I'm very proud of in this campaign is I think we've already changed the political dialogue. I mean, you think about it, you know, when Mitt Romney starts talking like me. Right? Which wasn't the case when he started off. But suddenly everyone's ...'Change.' And you have someone like a Huckabee who is doing very well, basically taking a similar tone of, 'Well, we can disagree without being disagreeable.'

    "I think that we're shifting the political paradigm here. And if I'm the nominee, I think I can bring a lot of folks along on my coattails. You know, there's a reason why in 2006, I made the most appearances for members of Congress. I was the most requested surrogate to come in and campaign for people in districts that were swing districts, Republican districts where they wouldn't have any other Democrat.

    "That was based on their read of the fact that, you know what, this is somebody who can reach out to independents and Republicans in a way that doesn't offend people…I don't want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what's different are the times.

    "I do think that, for example, the 1980 election was different. I mean, I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. They felt like, you know, with all the excesses of the 60's and the 70's and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating and he tapped into what people were already feeling. Which is, people wanted clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamic and entrepreneurship that had been missing, alright? I think Kennedy, twenty years earlier, moved the country in a fundamentally different direction. So I think a lot of it just has to do with the times.

    "I think we're in one of those times right now. Where people feel like things as they are going aren't working. We're bogged down in the same arguments that we've been having, and they're not useful. And, you know, the Republican approach, I think, has played itself out. I think it's fair to say the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last ten, fifteen years, in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom. Now, you've heard it all before. You look at the economic policies when they're being debated among the Presidential candidates and it's all tax cuts. Well, you know, we've done that, we tried it. That's not really going to solve our energy problems, for example. So, some of it's the times. And some of it's, I think, there's maybe a generation element to this, partly. In the sense that there's a, I didn't did come of age in the battles of the 60's. I'm not as invested in them.

    "And so I think I talk differently about issues. And I think I talk differently about values. And that's why, I think we've been resonating with the American people."

    Senator Clinton's Response

    "I have to say, you know, my leading opponent the other day said that he thought the Republicans had better ideas than Democrats the last ten to fifteen years," she said. "That's not the way I remember the last ten to fifteen years."

    January 18, 2008 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  3. Ian Tepoot

    I've read a few too many posts on this thread that basically read "how dare Obama criticize Bill Clinton?". First of all, Bill Clinton is acting as an active hit agent against Obama in this campaign. Yet, basically, he is such a sanctified figure that Barack Obama should not dare criticize him?

    Also, the misuse of the Reagan quote seems heavily to rely on the fact that most people did not watch, nor read a transcript, of the interview. Mr. Obama was making an observation that did NOT serve as an endorsement of Reagan's policies. Basic reading, not parsing, will inform you that he said:

    a) Reagan harnessed popular discontent to begin a movement that resulted in a landslide, and also a sea-change in the direction of the country.

    Whether or not you like this direction, this is a fact. However, his interview clearly states that he has:

    b) An intention of harnessing a similar mood in this year, a hunger, to try to move the country in a new direction. He DID NOT say the SAME direction, I would argue that he is, in fact, trying to create something of a counter-Reagan revolution.

    Whether you believe he can do so is another matter. But misreading and misrepresenting what he said does no one any favors.

    Speaking of his progressive bona-fides - he DID effect change in Ilinois by often getting Republicans to come to HIS side of the issue. His record of support of progressive causes is better than Clinton's. After law school, who went in to a corporate-friendly law firm and was board member for Wal-Mart, and who became a civil rights attorney, union rep and community organizer?

    Do you honestly believe that a person who has received 100% marks on his pro-choice stance etc. is going to suddenly become a Reaganite?

    January 18, 2008 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  4. Greg OH


    Please read his site and listen to him talk. He explains it during his campaign stops and he has a 65 page plan for change on his website. It is not hard to find and they are good ideas

    January 18, 2008 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  5. Michi

    Why is everyone getting all nuts over Obama saying something about Reagan. He wasn't promoting all of Reagan's policies. As the Smirking Chimp points out, Hillary's website has an article posted which states the following list of her favorite Presidents and Reagan is included.

    Her list of favorite presidents – Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Truman, George H.W. Bush and Reagan – demonstrates how she thinks. As expected, Bill Clinton was also included on the aforementioned list."

    January 18, 2008 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  6. Jenny, Paxton, MA

    he hasn't uttered a word about in what direction his change will go. what a fraud, or idiot.

    January 18, 2008 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  7. Shane Australia


    You wanted to know what folk in other countries think…. I'm an Aussie and I think that Obama is exactly what your country needs now.

    He can speak in a full sentence for a start ! How you guys voted Bush in is truly questionable ? But then we had Howard for 10 years and he was just as disgraceful. But we got rid of him and his party here!

    I do have some questions about Obama is he going to end this kiss ass thing you guys do with the saudi's, Isreal and the like ? Is he going to end this support of nation like Pakastain ? Will he take America back to suporting real Democratic nations ? Will he end the death penalty which Australia NZ and all of the EU find absoultey deplorable ? I want to know if he think a President ever the right to lie to the American people ?

    Those questions aside I think he is smart and very human and the best person for now. Not in four or eight years time now!

    I think he would be the best person to rebuild the worlds trust in America's through words and actions and thats going to be a big hard job! Huge!

    I travel alot and most of the world hates you guys I mean really hates you all.

    Google "biggest threat to world peace" America comes up number one in every poll even in alied countries like my own!

    Ive been to the US and seen its soul…… I know that most people in America are good people! You have your problems like the rest of the world… The one that most struck me, is your problems with race!

    So if you can vote in a smart and capable guy who is also a black man then you guys are taking a giant (very long overdue) leap forward!

    I have to say before this primary thing started I liked the Clinton's but now I cant say that ! I think the way they have acted with all the lies and all the stunts….its really turned me off them.

    All the republicians are so much like Bush I hope no one votes republician this time but the Clinton's now seems just as bad ! The same old same old !

    When did Bill turn into such an angry grumpy old man ?

    The Clinton's need to realise that Obama is the competion not the enemy. I guess that what happen when your in politics for to long!

    I think there is something wrong if you guys vote in another Clinton !

    Im all for you guys having a woman leader I just think Hillary is the wrong one. You should have had several Females already by now and so should we ! We do have our first woman deputy PM (like your vice president) now I think she's is really good so much so, she should be our PM.

    Bush,Clinton,Bush,Clinton is no change at all ! The clinton have had there time and now its time for a new.

    While i liked Hillary and Bill before i think you all should thank Hillary for her 35 years (lol) of service and send her and Bill off as abasadors to Iraq she was part of the problem let her clean it up ! I also think you should send Bush and co to one of those CIA prisons for a few years and then see if they think its fair !

    While your asking can I say that it really is offensive to the rest of the world when you folk say…… the leader of the free world ! That thing was wrong from the start and stoped being anything near true when the wall came down!

    We dont vote your leaders they are not our leaders we vote our own! For a nation that believes in democarcy its really wierd that you guys say that ! We in other countries are free people!


    ps Regan did change the course of your country no arguement with that…… it was just he took you on a course in the wrong direction just like Thatcher did in the Uk !
    and Howard did with my country!

    January 18, 2008 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  8. Dara

    When Clinton demonstrates how MLK and Johnson came together to pass the Civil Rights Act, she crusified and called a racist. When Obama makes reference to Regan, he's uniting the people. Unfortunately, Obama supporters seem "inspired" to "unite" and attack rather than research. Senator Obama failed to show up and cast a vote 160 times out of 260 issues that were critical to our nation when he had an obligation to implement the "change" he preaches. When he did bother to show, he voted "PRESENT" rather than YES or NO.

    January 18, 2008 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  9. obama, a good man

    As a republican on this page, I have to respect this man if I do not vote for him. Obama has a lot of class, integrity, and commitment to his vision as a leader. He does not look for a party to lead him. He looks to greatness in himself and how others have brought about change. I believe all of us should support the fact that he does not hide behind the shadows of the likes of Al Sharpton/Jesse Jackson, but continues to lead from his heart and stand on his own two feet instead of having a spouse or racial leader be at his side. This is historic.

    January 18, 2008 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
  10. Greg OH

    I know this is hard to accept but how about this idea:

    Do you know a U.S. president is the president of the whole country, not just half of it? The Republicans and Democrats don't have to be enemies, we are all Americans.

    January 18, 2008 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  11. Solomon Freeman

    To those who says Obama talks about change and still can spell out how he will get it done, most have been mis guilded and not listening to him. I have listen to him over and over again, including other candidate, and there is no comperising between him and others. he is a man of due season, with the will and comitment to make the change. we most give him our vote. he will be the president of the united states not that of the dem or rep.

    January 18, 2008 09:31 pm at 9:31 pm |
  12. 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 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  13. Tom Davie

    Golden rule

    whatever Obama does is GREAT .

    Even cherishing a REPUBLICAN who did VERY LITTLE for unions or the poor or in general much for everything democrats stand for.




    Yeppers, obama sure is a honest guy. Sold out his party to SPIN votes in california .

    January 18, 2008 09:59 pm at 9:59 pm |
  14. Teacher

    Drip drip drip,how many drops of prosperity fell on the YOU under Trickle Down Economics?

    January 18, 2008 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  15. Glazed, Detroit metro

    The parrot will sing the right tune once in a while. This guy got guts or is stupid? After the present admin. can we afford to pick another green horn ?

    January 18, 2008 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  16. leslie

    honestly, how can anyone truly evaluate a candidate's polices without being simultaneously an economist, wide-ranging social and political historian, and judicial expert? combine that with the fact that all politicians tell you what they think you want to hear, you might as well not listen to anything they say. people have always been swayed by good rhetoric.

    my personal solution is to pay attention to their characters, as much as can be gleaned from their writings, speeches, and personal histories. of course, you need to develop a good bs meter and also learn to interpret things in their contexts.

    along those lines, although i was initially appalled at obama's remarks about reagan, in the context of the thought process, it made sense. clinton's remarks about mlk and johnson also made sense, but definitely could have been worded better. something like: they couldn't have made civil rights a reality without each other. however, i disagree with her statement that the civil rights movement was completely fulfilled in 1968: it's not over until all people are treated with fairness. and that might be a fool's task, but i don't mind being a fool for a greater cause.

    January 18, 2008 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  17. James Brown ( Independent )

    I think the Clintons are in panic mode , they thought this thing was going to be cake walk.

    Obama made a valid point , people just see what they want.

    In the end Obama is the right man for the job.

    January 18, 2008 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  18. tina ny, ny

    Greg- it seems like Obama can talk and give prepared speeches. His true self comes out when he is caught off guard. He usually messes up. Then he goes back to his camp then they train him with better answer.
    January 18, 2008 8:55 pm ET


    Please read his site and listen to him talk. He explains it during his campaign stops and he has a 65 page plan for change on his website. It is not hard to find and they are good ideas

    January 18, 2008 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  19. Gil - California

    Edwards is a fool to mock Reagan. I voted for Reagan back when I was a Republican and am still proud of that vote. The fact that I've migrated to the Democrat party in the mean time does not lesson the respect I have for Reagan, flaws and all. Voting for Reagan was the last time I felt good voting for someone instead of voting against someone.....until now. Now I'm proudly voting for Obama and pray I'm not forced into voting against someone in the General election.

    As for Hillary.....sorry old gal, it bed time for Bonzo.

    January 18, 2008 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  20. John

    “…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."

    Wake up Obama drones; this is praise of Ronald Regan. They said it didn’t matter that George W. Bush was inexperienced and now we see what he’s done. Do you really want to repeat that mistake? Get real!

    January 18, 2008 10:59 pm at 10:59 pm |
  21. Andrew, NY, NY

    Ross, you are clueless and apparently a very poor judge of character. Much can be determined by a person's actions and body english...perhaps more than what can be determined from one's words alone. Clinton has "disingenuine" written all over him. For some a biting of the lip portrayed empathy....but many Americans saw it for what it really is. The man is a complete utter fraud. Clinton brought nothing but shame to the office of President. He was a panderer, a poll reader without conviction. He had no moral compass. He showed weakness to our enemies. He was more concerned with popularity than he was to respect....there is an enormous difference. What Reagan was, Clinton was not.

    January 18, 2008 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  22. Kelly

    Not sure why my post was deleted since it didn't flame anyone, but I'll try again, CNN.

    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 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  23. Dwayne, Pa

    It is so entertaining to read all the opinions of the Hillary Clinton supporters.
    Almost every post made is either bashing Obama or bashing Obama.
    No real solid ground to bash him on, but still do it.
    They can't come up with anything real to support their reasons, just create reasons.
    Yet, the majority of Obama supporters give actual facts to support their opinions.
    The reality is, Senator Clinton CONSISTANTLY votes FOR something, but then is AGAINST it. Check her voting record.
    And of course, she attempts to say Obama is the same way (her example, he voted against the war, then voted to fund the war).
    The reality is, Obama DID vote AGAINST the war, and has stood by his vote.
    He DID later vote to fund the war, obviously because he WILL NOT deprive our brave men and women of the tools and supplies they need.
    Hillary Clinton started her campaign as the "tough", "automatic choice" for the nomination. THEN SHE LOST IOWA!
    So, she then changes tactics and runs on the "friendly, loveable, real person" routine.
    Now, AFTER losing the endorsement of the Culinary Union in Nevada, her supporters turn around and file a lawsuit because they will be able to vote (of course, she had nothing to do with that!!).
    All of her changing personalities, voting for something, then claim to be against it, sneeky political games will not fly as the leader of this country.
    The leader of this country CAN NOT make decisions, then change their mind.
    We need someone with good judgement THE FIRST TIME!
    Look at the voting records, compare them, then bring the comments!

    January 18, 2008 11:16 pm at 11:16 pm |
  24. HeatherH

    My post of about seven hours ago never made it through whomever is moderating this, so I am going to try again.

    Above Edwards is quoted as saying, "[Reagan] 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."

    Reagan was the president of the screen actors guild for seven one-year terms, an achievement for which he said he was most proud, even after achieving the highest office in our land. He was definitely pro-union. Edwards is simply ahistorical on this point.

    It is interesting to me that only one person commenting on this article mentioned Reagan's union presidency.

    Edwards must be referring to the strike and subsequent firing of many members of the air traffic controllers union early in his presidency. As government employees, they are not allowed to strike. Reagan gave them 48 hours to report back to work, then fired the lot of them that refused. For anyone who remembers the aftermath of September 11, you can see why he would be so intolerant of a union that was in effect holding the whole nation hostage, not just their employers. The air transportation system is vital to the health of our economy and disruption has a disproportionate effect on the whole system. If Edwards disagrees with Reagan's actions, he should really come out in favor of repealing the legislation that made their strike illegal. Maybe it took a pro-union guy like Reagan to see that particular unions and their memberships can be wrong in certain situations.

    Oh, and the Reagan Democrats were largely the union folks.

    January 18, 2008 11:18 pm at 11:18 pm |
  25. lw

    What do Barak Obama and George Bush have in common?

    1. Both called themselve uniters.

    January 18, 2008 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
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