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. Josh

    Finally a presidential candidate with the courage to pop the misguided bubble of Reagan-worship that's been far too rampant in this country of late.

    January 18, 2008 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  2. Derek

    Edwards is playing classic politics here. Take a narrow comment about Reagan's abilty to motivate and unite and parlay that into "Obama is anti-union". With our sound-bite media, I fear this will work, even though Edwards is wrong.

    I wish I had more faith that we Americans could sort this type of political "hit" out from the truth. But I don't and comments in this forum reinforce that. "Reagan was a uniter" and "I hate unions just like Reagan" are not equivalent statements.

    Edwards needs to get out of this race; a big loss for him in his home state of SC will ensure that.

    January 18, 2008 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  3. Terry, El Paso, TX

    Policies of the Reagan Administration started the long slide of the American middle class into oblivion. Most people now alive don't realize that America was not a middle class nation until the middle of the 20th century. The growth of the middle class was made possible by the Roosevelt and Truman administrations via a redistribution of income through taxation from the upper to the middle class, veterans' benefits, education grants, job training, etc. The Great Society did a lot for those in lower income brackets.

    Reagan was a decent guy and a smooth talker, but he really didn't understand the policies that his subordinates implemented as if in response to his rhetoric. Neither do most Conservatives understand what actually happened as a result of Reagan/Bush/Bush policies. Incomes of the bottom 75% of the country are declining while income of the top 25% is growing. Income of the top 3% is going up like a rocket.

    Conservatism is making America into the most productive third world country: a large lower class ruled by a tiny wealthy elite.

    Conservatives are determined to lead us down the garden path, my fellow citizens, and Democrats do not have the guts to stand up to them.

    January 18, 2008 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  4. Mike

    Obama will say ANYTHING to gain voters. Every politician is like that. Obama is NO DIFFERENT. He can make stuff up because he has no experience or voting history to base on. He's running on a clean slate.

    January 18, 2008 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  5. Carl L.

    I am now more convinced than ever that the ONLY Democrat candidate who can unite the whole nation is Senator Obama.

    January 18, 2008 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  6. Sig, Los Angeles CA

    "What does Reagan changing the political landscape have to do with our nation today and the grave challenges we face?"

    When Reagan was elected in 1980, the country was ready to move-on and was hunger for change. Regardless of what you think of Reagan, you cannot deny that the country was ready and hungrey for something new and he tapped into what the country was feeling at the time and Obama feels we're at that place, yet again, in history. This has nothing to do with Reagan and his policies but everything to do with the sea change that swept Reagan into the White House.

    January 18, 2008 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  7. BamaMAMA

    It's funny how all you whites are so for Obama. You will now be the minority now.

    January 18, 2008 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  8. 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 twisted and the media confuses our voters in such as manner that as a result mediocre incompetent politicians keep getting elected.

    January 18, 2008 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  9. stan pitts pa

    obama shows respect for all, this country is way too divisive when a member of one party cant even reference what a member of another party did in positve retrospect, he was speaking of change in our time 2008, and reminding folks of change that occured in reagans time 1980, and just hinting that our country may be on the brink of real change for the better, this type of divisive politics is what obama is trying to end, thats why i trust that he is the real candidate of hope and change, and that he will reach out to everybody, republicans and independents, to heal our nation so we can move ahead as one, remember only a nation united can stand, obama 08!

    January 18, 2008 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  10. Tyler

    Obama cant make change...if he cant create any change in his home state of Illinois then how can he change the entire country?

    January 18, 2008 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  11. THOMAS BILLIS las vegas nv

    Not FDR.Not JFK.Not Clinton.Ronald Reagan Obama cites as an agent for change.As a democrat Ronald Reagan should be an anathema to a Democrat running for President.Does he mean he wants to continue Reagan's anti union stances.Continue the deficit spending that ballooned under Reagan.Continue the rhetoric of "Welfare Queens".Contiue the upward moving of money to the very richest people in America.This is the change that Democrats are committed to stopping and reversing.Leave it to the democrats to try and appeal to the type of people who would not vote for them if they were the only ones on the ballot.Looks like the next picture I will see is Obama in a ridiculous hunting outfit trying to woo the NRA.

    January 18, 2008 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  12. felice, Fredericksburg, VA

    To Fred in Reston, VA

    I'm an African American Female who is not voting for Obama I am not racist, I just simply prefer another candidate better. Leave race/gender out of the debate because that is STUPID and irresponsible.

    January 18, 2008 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  13. Tyler

    Praising Reagan, the guy who crushed the middle class, does not go well with many democrats

    January 18, 2008 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  14. Butch Dillon

    Time and again, Obama reaches out to all Americans. The reference to Regan was benign, and yet one more way he demonstrates his strong desire to overcome partisanship and work with the entire political spectrum. John Edwards might be feeling pressure over the distance that polls show between him and Obama. I would not hold this comment against Edwards, it was purely campaign politics to illustrate a difference.

    January 18, 2008 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  15. Rick, El Paso, Texas

    Edwards yelling about how he would be as President is only trying to knock Obama down so he can win in Nevada and South Carolina. Come on Mr. Edwards. Calm down, focus on the issues. Attacking Obama only makes you look like an idiot. Act Presidential if you want to win votes.

    January 18, 2008 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  16. GP Geneseo Il

    Well, I for one almost went broke under Reagan...I'm still trying to find out what made him so great to some people....I was just a breath away from filling for bankruptcy under that man....

    Reagan is the PAST, we need a whole new FUTURE and fast...

    January 18, 2008 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  17. Brian Tampa, FL

    The 70's and Jim Bob Carter were a disaster that Reagan pulled us out from. I know for most liberals history started about 10 minutes after GWB was elected but there was a world before. Reagan was a great President, Clinton was not, these are the simple facts and they are without dispute.

    January 18, 2008 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  18. John

    I must say that reading these comments are great. So many of us are finally starting to understand and belive. Barack, what brilliance send the unbelivers on a wild goose chase, all the while, for those that can actually read, bringing us all together. Brilliant. Sure is funny reading comments from the hillary supporters, the 90's weren't that great either. I am most dissappointed in Edwards now. He, I thought was smart enough not to fall for the Cintonistas bait statements. Maybe he shouldn't be vice president. Obama/ Richardson I think is the way to go now. John Edward you were this close to being vice president.

    January 18, 2008 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  19. lori, ann arbor

    go edwards! thanks for keeping it real. my first vote was for jimmy carter and i never regretted it. reagan democrat, i am not, and proud of it.

    January 18, 2008 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  20. Rick

    Edwards and Clinton are one in the same. Democrates and STATUS QUO, cant handle change, cant handle a look at the other side and cant be professional at all. I place Mr. Edwards in the same class as Bill and Hillary, people who openly target others on what they may say to change the country and if they reference something they dont like they use negative comments to down play something good. I'm not rich, but as for the Reagan years, they were better than what we have now and what we ever had with a democrate in office. All I ever hear from the democratic side is how bad it is, not progress and lets raise taxes in one way or the other, the goverment must control......remember the government is the people, its time for a CHANGE, Vote For Change, Not The Status Quo......

    January 18, 2008 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  21. sunnyday

    How can you as a democratic president hopeful flounder fish over to praise what a republican president did for this country, where is your loyalty? If you want to taunt the Clintons at least use a democrat. Yuh!

    January 18, 2008 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  22. Mary, Michigan

    EVERYONE, please read SCOTT, MADISON, WI above. Thanks in advance CNN for posting this.

    January 18, 2008 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  23. Al

    Edwards just made himself no better than the media. Taking things out of context to support their own agenda.

    Take the time to read Obama's full comment.

    January 18, 2008 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  24. Garry Lemons, Arkansas

    Hey Fred in Raston- Are you REALLY that STUPID!??? Your comment is off the deepend to say the least.
    I WILL NOT vote for someone who has used charisma and the ability to put two sentences together as to make himn sound like he knows how to make this country rebound from the MESS the Republicans and that moron in the white house has gotten it into.

    Personally dead-head Fred, Obama doesn't have the experience as a JUNIOR Senator to take this country in the direction it needs to go in.

    It is gonna be a real shame if he actually gets elected and then you guys who keep pouting how wonderful he is realize just what a BIGGER mess your naivity about a candidate who "talks of change" and a candidate with a WITH a plan make when voting for President.

    Obama is not the savior you guys think he is...go ahead and elect him without using your brain and in 2 years when we are still at war, the economy still sucks and the job growth is zilch..call him, thank him and draw your un-employment check!

    January 18, 2008 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  25. JoAnn

    Is it 'sea change' or "see change"?

    January 18, 2008 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
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