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. Paul F., Alexandria, VA

    My fellow liberals forget that we don't control America.

    We liberals are, at best, about a third of voters on the national scene.

    Bill Clinton NEVER won more than 49% of the national vote. Not in either term.

    In order for an African American liberal Democrat who the vast majority of voters KNOW NOTHING ABOUT, and will never read his books, and many of whom will be inclined to believe the libelous e-mails about him, he needs to reach out to independent and "enlightened" Republicans.

    We liberals consider Ronald Reagan one of the worst presidents on domestic issues and on human rights in Central America. He sold arms for hostages in Iran to fund an illegal war in Central America. He sold out future generations on the environment and broke the air traffic controllers' union, which illegally went on strike.

    As for the Soviet Union, even though many liberals felt that the Soviet Union was coming apart from the inside and Ronald Reagan was in the right place at the right time to get credit for its collapse, he may have sped that process up by his increased military spending and direct comments and actions challenging the Soviets.

    Is it a crime to make that observation? I hope not.

    Republicans have, for years, complimented John F. Kennedy and tried to steal his legacy for them. If Barack Obama wants to connect with Ronald Reagan's ability to communicate and claim that he might have the capacity to be as transformative a figure for this generation as both those candidates were for their generations, that is just good politics.

    The truth is that JFK and RWR were great communicators and so is Barack. Few people would disagree that Barack is in their company on that score.

    Now, imagine what it would mean for America if we elected a liberal African American with a bi-racial background because liberals, independents and some Republicans supported him.

    We might actually get quality, liberal, legislation passed in Congress. We might actually leave Iraq and help our veterans at home. We might pass health care legislation that covers all children and nearly all adults. We might decide to fund pre-K education and pay teachers enough to give them respect and make it a profession people want to join. We might make real progress on global warming.

    Most importantly, we would send a message to every disaffected minority young person that this is a nation where anything can happen, where discrimination, bias and bigotry is truly looked down upon and is being pushed completely into history.

    Let's make the dream come true. Let's vote Obama!!

    January 18, 2008 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  2. Kris In Atlanta

    This is another example of Obama overdoing it. I respect Obama but this latest event shows he has a lot of political maturing to do.

    If you count an out-of-orbit deficit, arms for hostages, which incidentally is part of the reason Bin Laden, and Al Qaeda & Company maintained such a robust weapon supply, the enhancement of the status quo, and countless other deficiencies as transforming America, then Obama is right. Ironically, even while Reagan blasted big government and unions, his economic policies actually increased the size of the welfare state, due in part to him driving many workers to the brink of insolvency.

    No one but the most close-minded Republicans long for Reagan. He represented ole boy networking and big business. Where's the nostalgia in that?

    This comment from Obama is nothing less than a shameless, self-serving attack on a beloved Democratic president who transformed the welfare state into a working state, eliminated the deficit, increased civil rights, and kept America safe from terrorists. Clearly, this is an extension of Obama's continued purpose of trying to discredit the Clintons, and seems to also be an attempt at pandering to Republicans. I am deeply disappointed in Obama over this.

    If you want to win, Obama, instead of distorting the issues with non-important, irrelevant references and pointless, verbose speeches lacking genuine substance, then talk about issues-for a change! Tell us where you stand, not what you hope and think. I thought Obama claimed he was above this type of political shenanigenry. Obviously that wasn't true. Fortunately this Reagan thing is coming back to haunt him.

    January 18, 2008 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  3. John, Kansas City, MO

    Now that's a misleading headline if I ever saw one...I guess since Edwards called out the media for ignoring him, now they have to buddy up to him?

    January 18, 2008 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  4. Anne

    How truly refreshing for a candidate from the democratic party pay attention to history and give credit where credit is due. All Mr. Obama did was make a declaritory statement regarding the mood of the country and Mr. Reagan's ability to read that mood. I'm quite impressed. As a republican I may choose to vote for Mr. Obama because, at this moment in time, he is certainly reading my mood.

    January 18, 2008 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  5. Nadeem

    Reagan as most people was complex. He vision of the US as a city on a hill and a beacon of light for the rest of the world was compelling.

    He also attracted many democrats to his vision making him a successfull politician.

    While he become very polirizng towards the end of his second term was not what we want to become.


    January 18, 2008 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  6. Xavier, Washington, DC

    I don't know what scares me more: the thought that some of you believe the comments you're making or the thought that you so easily twist the truth to fit your needs. Look people, I did not like Reagan. In fact, in my neighborhood, the parents were happy when he got shot. The truth of the matter is, though, Reagan did usher in a new era. Many people liked him. When he was re-elected in 1984, he won 49 of 50 states. In the one state he lost, which was his opponent's home state, he still got 49.5% of the vote. Barack did not praise Reagan's policies. He merely pointed out a historical fact: Reagan ushered in change. He lowered taxes, cut social programs, and significantly increased defense spending. It was the era of trickle-down economics, where the poor got poorer and the rich got richer. While it may have been safer to point to a democratic president, Obama defied conventional thinking and pointed out a real example of change who happened to play for the other team. Kudos to Barack for telling people the truth.

    January 18, 2008 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  7. alex

    I just marvel as the way people think he just made a comparison to reagans change of the political scope. America is divided because of people like John Edward Does the statement mean he represents reagan or does the statement means he endorses his polcies. I was sick of clinton now i am getting sick of edwards. I want to ask a Question Is ronald reagan not american so if you are republican you shouldnt appeal to the democrats or swing voters. I just dont know what is wrong with the democratic party they are just self destructing in all circumstances. Another problem i see is people just read the headlines and post a comment they never read deep enough. HIllary is simply jealous of obama and she just cant stand him because he is young passionate likable and very humorous, Adding to that he has great speeches and very very Nice Handsome. Hilary please why dont you become governor of new york or arkansas that will be better we dont want you as our president. Edwards please go back to law school when you dont understand simple English. Obama just go to the white house we need You there.

    January 18, 2008 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  8. Theo

    Obama should be criticized for the Reagan comment … during the Reagan years the "gap" between the rich and the middle class and poor became greater than any other time in history … does he think we have forgotten this?


    That is a misconception. As I recall, the disparity between poor and rich, as a percentage, increased while Clinton was president. Right now, we need a president that is strong on defense, terrorism, and instills some fear within the eyes of our enemies. Invoking Reagan took some kiwis on his part, but.............. "Obama, you are no Reagan". The last thing we need is another Carter presidency from the Dems. Edwards is a moron as well, and is out of touch with reality. (or just pandering as usual) Unions are only about power, greed, and feeding from the trough. Representing "the working man" is a joke.

    January 18, 2008 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  9. rw

    Let's see, let us count the number of prominent people that Obama has invoked in his campaign: MLK, JFK, RFK(?), FDR(?), Reagan!! Any missing? Talk about a mix bag. My, he certainly is overreaching for votes, any votes.

    Reagan, the president that took the United States of American from a creditor nation to a debtor nation. The president that allowed Hezbollah to murdered over 250 marines in an unarmed mission and not take out their camp in the Bekaa Valley. the president whose supply-side economics did not improve the lot of the working class. The president whose wife bought $1000 per plate dinnerware for the White House dinners.

    Thank you Edwards. Keep unmasking the masked.

    January 18, 2008 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  10. Chim Chim

    Hey Clinton supporters: if you think HIllary will repudiate Obama for the Reagan comments, think again!

    She was on the Barry Goldwater documentary reminiscing about her days as a "Goldwater Girl", and without regret.

    She is not about to alienate Reagan Democrats. Those moderate conservative swing voters are her base.

    So sit back down and be quiet.

    January 18, 2008 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  11. Denise

    I'd really love to see CNN run something that is Pro-Obama on it's home page. If you'll notice most of the articles relating to Hillary are showing her caring side or how Presidential she appears and when the articles are written on Obama, he's always attempting to look Presidential...never full credit for any accomplishments. Although it is getting close to the Nevada caucus and God forbid if it really appears that Obama might be chosen the winner...have to thwart any appearance of a projected winner. Let's see the for the New Hampshire Primary, leave the Clinton 'fairy tale' soundbite on the home page all day. What are you planning for Saturday? And finally Edwards to getting some coverage, but once again it's anti-Obama.

    January 18, 2008 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  12. Mark, Chicago, IL

    Obama is lightweight... don't need to say more.

    January 18, 2008 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  13. John, Kansas City, MO

    And why can't I comment on Giulani's September 11, 2001 ad? Isn't everyone tired of him pimping tragedy?

    January 18, 2008 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  14. S.L. Lewis

    Clintonites and Edwardites give it a rest! Obama was simply explaining how Reagan's administration and leadership changed the political trajectory of this nation. That's it!

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

    Obama is courting the "Reagan Republicans" with this statement. It's a shrewd move designed to represent Obama to be all things to all people wthout actually saying anything.

    To paraphrase Shakespeare, Obama's campaign is “is a tale … full of sound and fury; signifying nothing.” He is an empty suit who will put a sheen of "hope" on the policies that his financial backers proffer.

    Edwards has the spine to be the voice crying in the wilderness. He is the lone candidate who is not beholden to anyone else except the American people. He has my financial support and my vote.

    To offer Reagan as a figure who changed the political landscape is a slippery way to imply that the trajectory subsequent to his adminstration was a good one. Does anyone else remember that the '80s were the "Me Generation?" It was a decade that brought us Wall Street and Gecko's "Greed is Good" credo. Look where greed has brought us: a nation pitted against itself and hell-bent on voting against its best interests. Pogo was right.

    January 18, 2008 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  16. Joann, Cranston RI

    Hey Wallace, I am boarding Hill Force One, and I suggest you join me in my First Class Seats, or read Obummers article again. I'm not going to degrade Obummer, he's a super smart guy – alot smarter than me, but he has no punch to back up his dreams. You absolutely do need experience and maybe in a few years he will have that having run this tough battle but not now. We're taking off now so fasten you seatbelts!!

    January 18, 2008 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  17. ROUSS

    A little too soon for Obama to be pandering to Republicans :^)

    January 18, 2008 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  18. Sally, San Antonio, TX

    Obama's reference to Ronald Reagan in such glowing terms when his policies did just what Edwards contends is mind blowing. Obviously, Obama is desperately reaching out to anybody who will vote for him...by pumping up a myth about Reagan which denies his destructive influence. This simply shows me that Obama will vacillate, play it cool, pander to everybody should he become president. This turns me off completely!!

    January 18, 2008 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  19. Harrison, NC

    I do believe it is "see change!" There is "change" coming with a vote for Obama! hm! Destroying the fragile economy with his "lack of understanding of the processes involved," devastating the social security system with "mindless directional changes" and "having an electorate substantially divided into ARMED CAMPS!" With his rhetoric, we can actually develop 3 or 4 Americas!

    January 18, 2008 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  20. penrose

    Reagan an unions ... wasn't he in a union? Actually he was the head of the Screen Actor's Guild union before getting into "politics".

    I won't start an argument about whether his decisions about unions as US president were right or wrong, but he did have the background to look at the issues from both sides.

    January 18, 2008 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  21. Scott

    Yeah, it's terrible that Obama actually ANSWERS questions, isn't it? I mean, we'd much rather have somebody in office like Clinton, where every statement is poll-tested and filtered through a Karl Rove playbook. We'd much rather have someobdy in office who, when asked what their greatest weakness is, says "I'm just too impatient for change." Or Edwards, who answers the same question with "I'm just too passionate about helping poor people."

    Let's choose honesty and frankness for once, folks. Clinton would bring Republicans to the polls in droves, and even if she did manage to sqeak out a win in November, it'd be another four years of divisive politics. Obama can help create a movement to expand the democratic base - which is all that he really meant when he was talking about Reagan. Bill Clinton may have won two terms, but he nearly destroyed the Democratic party in the process. And do we really want a return to the Clinton melodrama?

    Let's turn the page on the politics of the past.

    January 18, 2008 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  22. Robert M. Reidy N.Y.

    Folks, now do you see the difference between a leader who understands what it is to have vision and the power of connecting with the flow of progressive intuition that the people already have and the other politicians who are just in the way !

    Barack Obama is a man who's time has come !

    Barack has that rare gift like Reagan to reflect the inner almost subconscious
    yearnings of a people ready for a quantum leap in a positive and new direction
    while representing all that is good about our unique American spirit.

    I know that this may seem subtle but Barack Obama's genius is that he
    can communicate these ideas and motivate us to be better than we are.

    Right or wrong you knew where Reagan stood – Barack is like him in that way
    and that is why Barack and Michelle have such contagious excitement and
    electricity in there campaign and that is why they are going to win, and return
    prestige to this great nation that is a beacon of hope and freedom to a hurting

    January 18, 2008 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  23. Paul F., Alexandria, VA

    "In order for an African American liberal Democrat who the vast majority of voters KNOW NOTHING ABOUT, and will never read his books, and many of whom will be inclined to believe the libelous e-mails about him, he needs to reach out to independent and "enlightened" Republicans."

    Correction -

    In order for an African American liberal Democrat – about whom the vast majority of voters still KNOW NOTHING ABOUT, aren't likely to read his books, and may be inclined to believe aspects of the libelous e-mails about him – to win, he needs to reach out to independent and "enlightened" Republicans.

    January 18, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  24. Swoon

    The audicity of hope
    the urgency of now
    wave (brief commercial sales pitch)
    yes, we can

    I am MLK
    I am JFK
    I am Ronald Reagan

    Want to get a view of how some in South Carolina will vote? Go to abcnews.go.com/video/playerindex?id=4150648.

    If my husband sat across the table and expressed these views about women, he would be wearing his meal not eating it.

    January 18, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  25. John

    He (Obama) does have great plans, I saw him speak here in Iowa personally. I heard his plans on health care, and others, I also read his book. Plus I read not only the media out put, but blogs and papers. We aren't niave for beliving that Barack can bridge the divide that has been counted on in politics in this country for as long as I can remeber. We belive that We the People can change this country, and the way our system of government works. Its not only do we belive Barack can achieve this. But We belive We the people have a right to chose for our selves, not Billary and Bushes, scare tactic down and dirty, in the mud politics. We are so sick of it. We want Barack and the truth even if its not what we want to hear, we need the truth. Unbiased, unspun. Truth, the real deal, that is what Barack is about. Obama Iowa loves you, can't wait for 09'

    January 18, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
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