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. Oh Obama

    So funny....Obama backers can't find enough excuses to portrait their candidate holier than tho...the can't do wrong candidate, LOL. Any comment he makess has a positive purpose, any comment Hillary or Edwards made are bad! For them Obama is the reincarnation of the "ONE."

    Obama followers=- desperate cult people..easy to buy with empty slogans!

    January 18, 2008 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  2. John G, New York, NY

    Wow. I'm a supporter of Edwards....and his comments truly disappoint me.

    Obama's consistent message is that he is a genuine uniter of people around problems...and cares less about their ideology or political affiliation.

    The notion that Reagan changed the "trajectory of America" cannot be denied...regardless of how much you happened to agree with him. Obama was not praising Reagan...he simply said that he wants to change America (albeit in a different direction) as well.

    I'm disappointed that Edwards would resort to such a strategy in order to misguide working people.

    January 18, 2008 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  3. Gavin

    OBAMA WANTS TO BE LIKE REAGAN?? What a joke...

    Iran Contra

    AIDS Indifference

    Voodoo Economics

    I respected Mr. Reagan as a person, but he was an extremist behind and actors mask...and Barry Obama is certainly trying to mask his bizarre campaign behind "Hope"....


    January 18, 2008 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  4. Harrison, NC

    One needs only to let Obama be Obama! His mouth gets him into many, many positions that are indefensible. The more he talks his empty rhetoric, the more his inexperience as a politician are revealed. He is either STUPID, or he doesn't listen to his aides!

    His comments demonstrate clearly how inexperienced, politically naive, and full of himself he is! Want to have your vote count for NOTHING? – Want to vote for empty promises? – Vote for Obama!

    January 18, 2008 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  5. Dalton

    I think Edwards missed or simply ignored the underlying point of what Obama said. He didn't praise Reagan he simply pointed out that Reagan changed the direction of politics in America which he did. Prior to Reagan there was no real social conservative movement in the Republican party and say what you will but during his first election Reagan did manage to win the support of many dissatisfied Democrats because they wanted change.

    January 18, 2008 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  6. Tony

    President Reagan set in motion a series of events that led to the downfall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. On that front, he will be remembered as a great President. When it came to domestic matters, in particular labor, as evidenced by his handling of the Air Traffic Controller strike, he will not be remembered by so many people as a great President. I think it ill advised for any Democrat to compare him or herself to this very popular Republican icon who every candidate in the oppopsition party holds in great esteem on every issue; both foreign and domestic.

    January 18, 2008 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  7. D2

    This really seems like a non-issue.

    However, change can be good and change can be bad.

    In relation to Dem vs. Rep and Reagan ...Iranian hostages came home during Reagan's time, not Carter's.

    I think that was an important change.

    January 18, 2008 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  8. kay

    If Obama keeps this up he will have no chance at being the Vice President!! Go Hillary!! Love Ya Bill!

    January 18, 2008 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  9. Tim

    Is Obama referring to the Iran-Contra Reagan? Or the Regan who began our economic slippery slide?

    January 18, 2008 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  10. S, WI

    Obama has always been a traitor to the democratic party.
    He ignores party loyalists by auctioning party values to so-called independants and republicans.
    He seemed to have forgotton that this is democratic primary.
    This is about selecting a candidate who represent party values.
    He can appeal to the middle in a general election.
    Before that he needs get the nomination.
    He's so full of it, and thinks he's better than rest of the democrats.
    He insults democrats saying they are dividers.
    No one better divides party than Obama.
    How can he unite the country by dividing his own on party?

    January 18, 2008 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  11. Katrina (Memphis, TN)

    This is the exact reason this country needs Obama. He makes a statement about changing the political landscape and its is used against him as complete praise of Reagan. There is a reason there were Reagan Democrats, Reagan changed the political landscape. I am so sick of Democrats acting like you can never have anything good to say about a Republican without somehow committing treason. Obama unfortunately may be a better candidate for a general election, but may lose in the primary because the Democratic base is seperatist and won't be able to see the big picture. I didnt agree with the Reagan policies, but I would be silly not to see what a paradigm shift his presidency created.

    January 18, 2008 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  12. BoricuaSport

    Obama made a nice comment about Reagan and its unfortunate that his campaign adversaries (Sen. Edwards) took it out of context. I'm not a politician or some one with a 200 IQ, but I totally understood what he meant. Whomever misunderstood his commentary should be sent back to elementary school. Politics in this country are so misleading and the media confuses our voters in such as manner that as a result mediocre politicians such as our beloved president keep getting elected. Sorry to say but its true...Its a waste of time.

    January 18, 2008 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  13. Bernardo

    Obama's sensationalist rhetoric is exciting for the young and politically naive, but there is little substance. I think it is too bad for Edwards he has received limited press coverage because he has been speaking well to the health care issues that concern many of us average working folks that have experienced problems getting and keeping insurance.

    January 18, 2008 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  14. Arshad

    Senator Obama did not say he supported President Reagan's policies or its impact on union or middle class. He also did not say Reagan did a better job compared to Bill Clinton. However, the notion that just because Reagan is a republican, a democrat can not admire him is kind of narrow politics.

    What Senator Obama said, if you are interested to know instead of spinning, is that the election on 1980 was a change election. People were looking for something different. People were looking for clarity from their leaders, a sense of dynamist, innovation and entreprenureship. He said Reagan was able to capture the feelings of people and won a landslide (won 49 states) because people were desperately looking for change. Now Reagan ran on a 100% red state policy positions and people have given him a mandate by a landslide supporting his 100% red state policies, and he was able to make some significant change in the way the country was going. 2008 is similar time where people are looking for a big change. And a candidate who can capture the aspiration of people this time also might get a mandate from people to bring bold changes in the direction of the country.

    He did not say he agreed with Reagan's policies or he wanted be like him. Again he said 1980 was a change election and Reagan made significant changes as opposed to what Bill CLinton or Nixon did.

    Don't try to parse people's word and use every single word to decieve voters.

    January 18, 2008 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  15. Pickles, Monaca, PA

    Ronald Reagan was president when steel and manufacturing jobs left the country and the pay of a blue-collar worker was cut in half. It was also a time when neighbors became intolerant of their neighbors and the media played crisis-of-the-week to get us to hate and distrust each other. The name Ronald Reagan has nothing but negative connotations for me.

    January 18, 2008 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  16. Jim, American in Paris

    The truth keeps coming out about Obama. This is the second time this week that he has shown the country contradictory ideas and personal shortcomings straight from his own mouth!

    He told journalists the other day that he needs help around him all the time because he's not well organized (this is not a presidential quality!).

    Now he's praising a Republican president being sure to slip in an unflattering pass at Bill Clinton's presidency! Does this mean that he would have prefered a Republican in the 90's rather than Bill Clinton? Who's side is he on in this campaign? Repbulican or Democrat? Has he forgotten that he's a Democrat and he's supposed to be campaigning for that party's nomination?!

    Furthermore, who wants to vote for someone who says in so many words "this whole thing is just too much for me to handle. If I don't get help I'm lost !

    January 18, 2008 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  17. John

    Once again we see NObama's inexperience. How could anyone who hopes to call himself a serious democratic candidate even think about Reagan? Among all the things mentioned in the article, he also gutted the education system in this country so badly to pay for his military build up (remember Star Wars?) that we are still reeling from the after effects.

    I hadn't been paying much attention to Edwards, but I think I will from now on. We agree on Reagan, at any rate.

    January 18, 2008 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  18. Monte Brown, New York, NY

    Obama is a Republican. Obama does not care about the American people as much as he cares about his ballooning ego.

    Hillary Clinton is the most qualified candidate, the most experienced candidate and she's READY TO LEAD ON DAY ONE.

    January 18, 2008 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  19. epsec

    Glad to see that cooler heads have prevailed toward the end of these comments. The fundamental question wasn't whether or not he agreed with what Reagn did but did he bring about change. Answer is yes, Regan did and it fundamentally shifted the poliltical landscape.

    As for all the Regan bashing if you remember correctly America wasn't enjoying the best of times after the "masterful" job Carter did during his four years. What Regan did, like it or not, is tap into a centerist feeling, or the "big tent" theory that allowed those on the far right to join with those in the middle. This is what I feel Obama is trying to do and if he's able he should be able to get meaningful legislation passed.

    This is in direct contrast to Hillary is has taken a devisive approach and is further entrentching conseratives to oppose anything she tries to do. You may like Hillary and that's fine but realize that she's to polarizing and we'll only end up with 4 years of gridlock.

    January 18, 2008 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  20. Bob

    To Joe


    People like you are the reason America is divided..... Should we never cross party lines and think one on the other side did a good job. Reagan was a far superior President then Clinton ever was. I know you are going to talk about the economy, come to the table with something different. Lets, talk about how awful Clinton was on Defense allmost non existant in regards to stopping terror attcacks. Why dont you tells us about that (Hint 5 + Somalia). How about personal integrity with Clinton non exsistant.

    I am a Republican and if a Democratic President did a good job I will come out and say it and I would expect the same from most people. The problem in America is people like you that no matter what good someone from the other party does you will have a problem with it.

    Hopefully some day you will get the education that you need to better understand Politics. PLEASE DONT VOTE YOU ARE A MORON

    January 18, 2008 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  21. Jim P. - Chicago

    I am white, a republican, and earn a lot of money. And I don't feel I should be obligated to give any more of it away to dead-beats who would rather live a parasitic life than earn an honest living. Of course I will be called a racist, but tell me – What does this Obama guy stand for that I should admire? He is a socialist, hipster who has no real agenda other than to dazzle the progressive liberal idealists who are basically out of touch with reality. I have not heard of such sensationalism over a politician since 1933 Germany. Watch out!!!

    January 18, 2008 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  22. j williamson, Bufalo, NY

    Reagan broke the back of the air-traffic controllers union in 1981 – this really marked a huge turning point for unions – and it's been a downward spiral ever since. The environmental destruction, weakening animal and bird protections – all for the betterment of big business – that was Ronald Reagan too. His biggest and saddest legacy, however, was completely ignoring the AIDS threat in its early years – for years, he never mentioned the word or acknowledged it as any sort of health threat. As we know today, the death toll is in the tens of millions. How much of a difference would it have made had he spoken out and acted as the most powerful leader of the free-world should have? We'll never know, will we? Obama was way off base to bring Reagan up a "change agent."

    January 18, 2008 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  23. Pete

    Why is it that everyone needs to take comments out of context or read something into it that wasn't there? I like Edwards and will vote for him if he gets the nomination but he was wrong to read something into Obamas statement that wasn't there. Reagan did change the direction of the country, not necessarily for the better but he did change the direction. I think that's all that Obama was saying. It's kind of like Time magazines "person of the year " It doesn't mean it was a good person but someone who had a major impact for good or bad.

    January 18, 2008 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  24. Greg in OH

    Listen to the whole 49 minute interview, he also said he wants a "FULL AUDIT of the ENTIRIE FEDERAL government", which hasn't been done, but needed. He wants to find out where all the money is going and to route out the missing money

    January 18, 2008 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  25. Henry S.

    I too am glad to see Obama can say something positive about Republicans. I am socially liberal and a little fiscally conservative, but vote strictly Democrat because of I think freedom issues should be liberal–money issues just need intelligence, not ideology. So despite my dislike of Republicans, I will admit that I agree with a few Republican economic principals. I think too many times both parties are against whatever the other parties wants...regardless of what it is.

    January 18, 2008 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
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