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. jack ny, ny

    to obama supporter he can do no wrong. It is almost cult like following.

    CNN- it is interesting quite a few people are complaining that you are baised and you don't post anti-obama post even it is not as bad as the one for hillary. Just remember how voters kicked your gut in NH. You may have authority in selecting Obama favoring post. However people who are reading here are also writing and we all know what yu are upto. Pretty shameful. Having said that in the end it our vote and we will use in the right manner.

    January 18, 2008 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  2. Greg

    Bravo John Edwards. Reagan's legacy is our current selfishness. He made it OK to think of yourself, not your community, first. If he was an agent of change, it was a change from the United States as one nation into a division of the haves and have nots, which we have today.

    January 18, 2008 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  3. Teacher

    I will never forget how effective the "Trickle Down Theory of Economics" was and still is today under George Bush .Daddy called it Voodoo,but Jr thinks its just great.

    January 18, 2008 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  4. EB, FL

    This article is a good example why Mr. O is not ready to be president., he is not aware of the facts. Mr, Regan started the downward spiral of ours governments moral responsibility. I am not an Edwards supporter, but he has the facts straight. We cannot afford another president who is an idealist, we need a leader who knows how to work the system and fix it.

    January 18, 2008 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  5. Kim, Sacramento, CA

    I was 18 years old in 1980 and joined the US Army. There was still a lot of negativity expressed by the general population towards members of the military. After Reagan was in office for a short period of time that attitude started to change because, while I disagree with a lot of things that Reagan did and his ideals, he gave people a sense of pride in their country again. This is what Barack was referring to – all you have to do is look at Barack's policies and you will know that in no way does he agree or will he support Reagan type policies.

    When Reagan took office it was at a time when the country needed a
    certain type of leader. We are again at a time in our history when we need a certain type of leader – one that is not politics as usual, one that can work across party lines and one that can unity this country – – – that is Barack Obama.

    January 18, 2008 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  6. joze46

    Obama has no vision, and does not know how to change. It is a solid fact undisputable and verified by Obama himself in his book called “Audacity of Hope”.

    A very extraordinary illustration from Obama himself that glaringly shows hypocrisy of spectacular proportions. From the beginning in his Prologue Obama admits to serious, flaws that contradict the very foundation of his basic platform for “Change to believe in”.

    Obama said in his book: “The topics of his book how we might begin the process of changing our politics and civic life. This isn’t to say that I know exactly how to do it. I don’t”. America he doesn’t know how to change!! Incredible!!

    America do you read this statement the way I do? Obama said he does not know how to change yet parades around with the theme of “Change to believe in”. Very extraordinary to write about change one way and parade around the country telling the electorate another. It’s absolutely insane.

    Worse, Obama said a few lines later “I offer no unifying theory of American government”. America, for a man who taught Law and the Constitution at the University of Chicago for eight to ten years to make a statement like that is pure stupidity. Good God, The very Constitution is the most unifying document ever produced in modern history that created America and the most powerful government in history.

    For those who support Obama they should ask him about his change and detail what the heck it is. If Obama has no unifying theory and completely disregards the Constitution, what does he believe in, an Islamic theory? Please when you vote think about what you’re doing this man needs to answer those questions. America has no ideal what Obama believes in, yet thousands follow him around like brain dead followers that never question his believe. Obama’s change is likely worse than chump change in my opinion.

    January 18, 2008 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  7. Daniel, MN

    I agree 100% with E from KY above.

    It disturbs me that some of you are allowed to vote when you can make the jump from Obama saying "Reagan changed the politcal landscape" to "I love Reagan."

    January 18, 2008 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  8. Tim, Powder Spring, GA

    Edwards is putting a negative spin on Obama's words just like Bill Clinton did last week. There's a lot of that going around these days. This is the type of dirt that Obama is running against. What's funny is that less than two weeks ago the Clintons and Edwards were trying to jump on the change bandwagon.

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

    So Obama had praise for Reagan, I would never vote for a scum ambulance chaser... But I might vote for Obama now... Time to build bridges...

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

    Does he know how to talk about himself and what his true beliefs are ? why does he have to use every person in the worlds statements! I question this every time he says something its either MLK, JFK , Cesar Chavez which i do not appreciate since Im a mexican and now ronald regan which messed up the whole state of california with his stuff!!!!!

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

    REAGAN HAS SPOKEN FROM THE GRAVE! And he did say this and boy are you people proving him right. The Democrat's were, and still are so jealous of his enormous success in the 80's they can't help put keep bringing it up.

    RR – "However, our task is far from over. Our friends in the other party will never forgive us for our success, and are doing everything in their power to rewrite history. Listening to the liberals, you'd think that the 1980's were the worst period since the Great Depression, filled with suffering and despair. I don't know about you, but I'm getting awfully tired of the whining voices from the White House these days. They're claiming there was a decade of greed and neglect, but you and I know better than that. We were there. "

    Indeed we were there. The 80's were a time of optimism and prosperity in the USA, no matter how hard the bitter leftys try to deny it.....

    January 18, 2008 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  12. Benjamin

    Someone explain to me why the first comment for this story was posted by CNN. IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE STORY. Not only that, but it supplies an image opposite of what I've seen on all posts. Most Obama supporters in their comments are vile and attack oriented, so I don't know where he even gets his ideas. Most Clinton supporters are articulate and provide real arguements in their posts. There is a difference between confident and arrogant, with the latter being the impression I get from Obama supporters on these pages. CNN, if you are screening these posts, then take the time to see if the post has anything to do with the story it's being posted for. The comments begin with a blatant attack on the Clinton campaign, and the article is about Obama and Edwards!! I wonder if Obama supporters just saturate ever comment section with anti-Clinton propaganda...what a "just cause".

    January 18, 2008 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  13. S, WI

    Why my comments have not been posted yet, when other comments posted after mine have already been posted?

    January 18, 2008 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  14. Mary-Anne

    The Clintons will do everything feasible to get the votes – including lying and once they are in the office at WH, if they don't loose the national elections in November, they will do the same 8 years we saw with Clinton- it will be a remake – no much change – no greats expectations there. I hope Obama will win if he doesn't, I suggest him to never – never accept to work with the Clintons – For now I wish him the best in Nevada, SC and elsewhere.

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

    Mr. Edwards – if you ever had my vote you 100% don't now. No one, from either side should ever talk bad about a previous president, especially one that led us througha difficult time in our history. Was he perfect – no. Name one president that didn't make mistqakes or have flaws. What a disgrace you are to the American population for lashing back at another politician, even from your own party, that finds something good in a previous president – one who one the electoral and popular vote!!

    January 18, 2008 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  16. lito_illinois

    Obama seems to have gotten lost in his own rhetoric. That's all there is to all his words. His concept of change still resides in the abstract that's why even the change the reagan brought to this country would fit his definition.

    I admit he can deliver wonderful speeches, the guy is very charismatic. but look behind his rhetoric and you will see the emptiness of his promise for change. As for the Bluebook for change in his website, I don't see any concrete ideas for implementation that is needed. Full of ideals that we all must aspire for but definitely lacking in practicality which defines the real world.

    January 18, 2008 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  17. Wendy

    I love Barrack Obama, and I am truly afraid for him. I've often been called on my "charming honesty" myself and have been warned never to run for any public office because of it. I admire a man who speaks the truth intelligently without any fear of the polls.

    I've been making similar comments about Ronald Regan for YEARS, and I am as liberal as they come. Ronald Regan knew how to package and push the prveelent sentiments of Americans and drive us together around his candidacy. In fact, I have always despised Regan for making the Bush era possible. Obama never said he LIKED the direction that Regan chose; he just admired his campaign's ability to pull the country together as he is clearly trying to do.

    I think it also plays to the democrat/independent/republican coalition message. obama wants to use Republicans as a limited inspiration too when they did indeed have strengths or his coming together campaign would be all talk.

    I fear for Obama because people twist honesty to play the game. It has been going on for years, and the Clintons are Rove league when it comes to this skill. edwards is a bit more blunt and self-serving, but he too has found anopening here. I hope with my whole heart that America is ready for a President ready to speak the truth without reading cue cards or talking points or watching opinion polls and I fear we are not.

    Please America, see this for what it is and dispell the illusion that we are a country of morons for allowing 8 years of George W. Bush.

    Go Obama!

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

    Obama should have a check up immediately for alzheimer's. I'm guessing Obama thinks ketchup is a vegetable. How dumb can one be?!

    At least during the Clinton's presidency the middle class and poor actually got ahead, the same can't be said of Reagan's trickle down or piss down on the poor theories. I can't believe Obama thinks this is the right person to praise. Not only did he put down Clinton (nice message of hope he also criticized the other Democratic president. Who's next to criticize on his list, President Franklyn Roosevelt?

    January 18, 2008 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  19. Raymond

    The Obama Cult is out in full force today. WOW. Next when he compare's himself to Hitler, you will spin that in a positive way also!

    January 18, 2008 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  20. Jay Graham, Dallas, TX

    Obama is clearly playing doulble standards. When Hillary made comments about MLK , she was criticized by Obama and his camp by derating him with LBJ. This was clearly to instigate african-americans for snatching their votes which otherwise had gone to Hillary. And how can he idolize Reagan as a "Change" who transformed america? At the same time he is not ready to give Bill Clinton any credit for record surplus, 12 million new jobs, prospred middle class, and improving the standards of african-american people who considered Clinton as a "Black President". Reagan not only destroyed unions, but created a right wing society of republicans who divided this country as REd and Blue states. Its a shame that the same union leaders are now supporting Obama and forcing their members to vote for him. This big talks of hope and change are good when you listen this extraordinary oratory, but it requires leaders like Clinton to make it a reality.

    January 18, 2008 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  21. john Grocut

    Anyone who votes for Obama is an idiot, Fred. You want another Jimy Carter?
    This election, with what's going on in the Middle East NEEDS an insider.

    January 18, 2008 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  22. Tim

    Obama will do anything to win the nominee. First he compares himself to MLK, Now he compares himself to Reagan. Wonder who's next, Bush? Maybe Obama should are will become a Rebublican candidate. When will the lies stop? Obama is only a dreamer.

    January 18, 2008 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  23. Annie

    Everything that Obama said was true. I was worried that Hillary was going to have to read everything to the staff that she appoints if she wins, since no one in her current staff was able to read the rules of the Nevada caucuses in the last year, but now I see she is going to have to read all of the press releases to her supporters as well. Barack Obama is able to see "we the people of the United States" as exactly that, not just the people of the Democratic party or people of the Republican party.

    January 18, 2008 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  24. Scott

    America tends to be pulled in two different directions. The conservatives want to run the country the way it was designed to run with free market capitalism and limited government. The liberals want to see an American where everyone gets a piece of the pie. The problem is that the conservative way leaves a lot of us out of the equation. The liberal way breaks the country's pockets. Reagan put an end to the extremely liberal spending from the 70's. He took a hardline conservative stance no doubt, but the alternative would have left us in a economic black hole similar to where we are headed now. We need moderation. I would love to see a country where everyone is living well, but where does this money for universal health care come from. John Edwards will break our country. When he decides to play hardball with corporate America, he will drive away corporations and jobs and he will scare the life out of the stock market. We need a little Reaganesque fiscal conservatism right now.

    January 18, 2008 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  25. D.

    Reagan was an American. In fact an American President. I'm no lover of Reagan but my God have we gotten to the point to where we hate people on the other political team. This message is consistant with Obamas message, we need to end the politics of devision. Reagan as far as I recall pissed of a bunch of people but he was not devisive, controversial yes but devisive, I'm not sure. Correct me if I am wrong.

    As for Edwards, I like Edwards but this is a cheap shot. He has done enough to split the vote, with comments like that he only lends support to the establishment candidate.

    January 18, 2008 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
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