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. Greg

    I am pro-division let the bush supporters wallow in despair while we fix what they and bush did over the last 8 years.

    By WE I mean John Edwards and the rest of the citizens that are ready for REAL progress.

    January 18, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    I am very disappointed about Obama now.

    January 18, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  3. Joe

    Hey, CNN if you have a problem with my posts, please email me. I am certain I am meeting your standards and am perplexed on how you pick and chose comments.

    I don't even need to read the article. Just skip to the comments section for a good belly laugh at Obama supporters trying to defend their candidate and praise Reagan at the same time. It is more foot and mouth troubles for Obama. Defending each comment he makes just makes you look silly. More silly, is Obama trying to convince us that Bill Clinton somehow was wrong on the economy and things were rosy under Reagan. Obama thinks to himself, "How can we get back to talking about Iraq because these economic questions are killer?"

    Como se llama
    Obama Oh Ate It Again

    January 18, 2008 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  4. Lee

    I am not sure who I am voting for yet....Clinton or Obama but I now know that Edwards does not fit in the mix after the comments he just made about Obama...pay attention to what someone says and try to stop making it sound like something its not to try and make yourself look better.

    January 18, 2008 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  5. Praveen

    Obama was not comparing himself to Reagan. He was'nt praising him either. He was highlighting the fact how Reagan was able to impact and change the national policy. Simplicity of approach and clarity of thought are very vital for a leader. I believe Obama has those characteristics. He will be a great President.

    January 18, 2008 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  6. BamaMAMA

    Fred is right. Lay off man–now you are the racist Garry. Go back with SpongeBob

    January 18, 2008 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  7. Susan Jones

    I really like Barack and thought about voting for him. No more. I guess he was too young to remember the Reagan we called "ray-gun" for his radical opposition and uncaring attitude toward the working classes and unions. I think this was a HUGE mistake, and if he's playing to conservative Democrats in some way.....this won't do it. Reagan's Presidency was not a popular Presidency except with the conservative Republicans. He did more to undo what we citizens and the middle-class had worked so hard for in more than twenty years of activism. His was the second Administration to help bring down the tolerance, unions, and economy we had worked so hard for. Nixon had started down that road with the secrecy and unconstiutional activities he was impeached for. (later pardoned).
    I guess young people not involved in politics per se would not remember the great RECESSION under Reagan. In his second term, he had started giving us even more of the "well, in the old days....this, that and the other" didn't play well during press conferences when he was asked what he would do about the mess we were in. Gas prices rose over 50%....but that was huge then. Reagan also started the process of undoing unions by breaking and overriding every union strike. His firing of the FAA controllers was the final straw. Unions have never been the same nor had the power they had pre-Reagan ever since. He could have cared less about education, the working middle and lower classes, and every stance he took....was a blow to the hard work of the 60's and 70's for progress in America. I consider him second to the worst President we've had, George W. Bush being the worst. I don' t know what O'Bama was trying to do or why he said such things, but it won't endear him to Democrats who know about Reagan's real legacy. I'm surprised at the lack of knowledge and that his managers let him say what he said. Big mistake!! Oh, and if I forgot to mention this, Reagan started a covert war in Nicaragua and other places...remember the Ollie North hearings? He also had the American hostages held in Iran extra weeks so that Jimmy Carter would not be able to take credit for bargaining their release and that he would. Oh, and the way his "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" is attributed to the fall of the Soviet Union....hah, if anything, Reagan's policies contributed nothing to the inner collapse of the Soviets....it had already taken place. No kudos to Reagan for anything I'm afraid.

    January 18, 2008 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  8. tikifire

    I like what Obama said and I agree. Reagan started a monumental change in this country. If you want another monumental change elect Obama this November. If you want more of the same old same old elect Hillary, McCain, Guliani, whoever... sheesh...

    January 18, 2008 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  9. Ron

    "[Reagan] 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.”

    Didn’t the government grow bigger under Reagan, in fact the largest in history until the Bushes came along? Didn’t Reagan borrow the most money of any president in history until the Bushes came along? Didn’t it take 20 years to pay off Reagan’s deficit? Wasn’t there zero accountability under Reagan? (On the latter, think Iran-Contra if you are so confused.)

    I like Obama, but what the hell is he referring to?

    January 18, 2008 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  10. Frank

    Do the presidential candidates notice that every time they take a shot at obama, it backfires.

    January 18, 2008 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  11. Brian L

    For Goodness sakes! Barack was referring to the fundamental shift that this country underwent when Reagan was voted in. He wasn't defending Reagan's policies nor was he glamourizing them! He wasn't praising Reagan and what he did, he simply pointed out that as an agent of change, good or bad, Reagan was the figure head and arbiter of that political shift.
    Obama now stands as the only candidate in this field who represents what Reagan represented in 1980. The candidate who can reshape the political landscape.

    January 18, 2008 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  12. austin, tx

    its a sick addiction to keep reading these posts and seeing people comment on something they don't fully understand. he was commenting on the change regan did with the country. that was it. one could say this current bush has done the samething. good or bad, its your decision, but you can't deny that bush has changed this country with the same gusto obama is showing.

    January 18, 2008 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  13. M. Winners, Mesa, AZ

    Jeez, all Obama did was make a historically astute observation about different US presidents and their impact on the country. He no more said he wanted to follow in the "Gippers" footsteps than he said he wanted to follow in "Tricky Dick's" footsteps. Come on Edwards, quit the old-school 60's populist style whining and actually read what Obama said. Perhaps if you took that kind of intellectual honesty you would not be a distant third and soon to be out candidate...

    January 18, 2008 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  14. Lisa from New York

    The point of this story is not that Obama is a horrible person, but that he is a politician; and like anyone running a very competitive political race he's trying to gain an advantage.

    What's telling about this statement about Reagan is it shows that Obama is very willing to pander. So to those who say they are voting for Obama because he represents a new style of politics and is all about change, I'd question their blind fervor.

    The fact is that Senator Obama has much to account for, including his more than 120 "present" votes while in the State Legislature on a variety of issues and not just for political strategy on abortion votes as his campaign has said.

    He also faces some questions on consistency. He has disavowed lobbyist money in this campaign, but as evidenced by his vote for the 2005 Energy Bill, it showed his role in a legislative effort that capped years of work by lobbyists and Vice President Dick Cheney.

    According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama has received significant funds from Exelon (EXC – Cramer's Take – Stockpickr). Exelon is based in Obama's home state and has pushed hard for new subsidies for nuclear power plants. They got their wish in the 2005 Energy Bill with 29 new plants planned. Companies like Exelon would require the Yucca Mountain repository to dispose of waste.

    He outright denied that his New Hampshire Chairman was a lobbyist, when in fact it was found to be true.

    After loudly condemning labor unions for independently praising Hillary in Iowa ads, Sen. Obama has said nothing about the vicious Labor Union Unite Ad, which has basically said that Hillary Clinton is against the Hispanic community. This ad has been roundly condemended as "the harshest ad of the cycle on the democratic side."

    And it the list goes on. The point is not that Obama is a sinner, but that he is not a Saint, anymore than Hillary Clinton is the demon that the media and others have tried to portray.

    January 18, 2008 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  15. Paul

    What was the meaning of this article? And when ever has a comment from John Edwards been considered a BLAST?! It's almost as if this came out to lessen the strength of the huge endorsement Obama received from the Culinary Union.

    January 18, 2008 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  16. Miguel, Hanover, NH

    Edwards should bow out of the race. It's obvious he's never going to catch up to Obama and Clinton, and if he really is so anti-Clinton and anti-status quo, he should drop out, since the vast majority of his supporters would then vote for Obama, who has a more realistic chance of beating Clinton. Edwards, take one for the team.

    January 18, 2008 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  17. Ed

    Cheers to Obama on this one! Jeers to Edwards!

    January 18, 2008 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  18. Paul

    He only speaks the truth !!! Regan was not a great president he just did his best acting performance ! He converted all of the southern dixicrats to the republican party and started a more peaceful division between Blacks and Whites; but a divide all the same.He borrowed from social security to funds minimal tax cut checks for middle and low income people.

    Ronald Reagan finally became a great actor ! We were the Chimps !

    January 18, 2008 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  19. Lev Klinemann, CA

    Republicans may worship at the altar of Reagan, but I think hisory will not be very kind to Reagan.

    Reagan was the beggining of what we are experiencing now, its during this time that major coroporate theft schemes began, and they are perfected now...

    ..but guess what...

    Corporate theft is LEGAL now, thank you supreme court (on the decision few days ago), check into it people.

    ...and you thought that it was about Roe vs Wade, hahahahahahahahahah,

    Roe vs Wade is still here, and corporate theft is now legal...

    Thank you very much Ronald Reagan, you began it all.

    January 18, 2008 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  20. Too

    If I had any doubt regarding voting for Obama in the past, this definitely seals it in his favor...Mr. Obama you have my vote (without reservation).

    January 18, 2008 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  21. Da Mango Man

    Neither...it's Seabass and he'll meet you here at 0130, w/ Obama and Edwards standing guard outside the stall singing praises to Reagan, Bush, Kucinich and Clinton!
    Yo, Lemons in Arkansas...is your name reflective of the fact you're so sour? Actually, you might want to change your name to Mr. Merlot since all you do is "wine!"
    BTW, read all of Obama's comments before taking just a portion of it out of context and passing it along.

    January 18, 2008 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  22. Adam

    "Although I entirely disagree with what Reagan did to "change" America there is not doubt that he certainly did change it when American needed a change. I felt that what Reagan did to change America caused irreperable damage and laid the foundation for the unspoken class war that exist in America today. "

    Obama was also critical of the big government of the 60's and 70's. What was the big government growth of the 60's and 70's. Carter created the energy department and Department of Education. We created the Clean Water Act the Clean Air Act, CERCLA and just about any major environmental protection law you can think of. We preserved national parks and Open Space passed the civil rights act and went to the moon.

    Now if he was referring to big military policy. Reagan was a return to the covert operations style of the 60's. A return to mass military industrial complex spending etc...Carter was the diverger from that.

    The big government of the 60's and 70's is alot of what democrats like. The big government of reagan alot of what they hate. Hard to run as a champion of energy reform and climate change when you seem to believe reagan was necessary to correct these excesses of democratic idealism.

    January 18, 2008 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  23. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    As much as one might agree with a lot of Obamas campaign for change, John Edwards is correct in regards to the presidency of Reagan. However, Obama's clarification of what he meant is understandable he needs to be understood clearly whenever he speaks.

    January 18, 2008 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  24. OC

    If anyone respected Pres. Regan, Edwards shot himself in the foot with his comment.

    Instead of going against Obama for his comment, some might go against Edwards now. Not real smart if you ask me!

    January 18, 2008 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  25. Justin Tyme

    Obama is right as far as Reagan being an icon of change. Reagan's popular speech in Berlin – "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall..." goes to cement the fact and those words have literally changed the lives of millions of people living in repression.

    The amazing thing is that, Mr. Gorbachev ACTUALLY complied! Amazing leadership – with results on the part of Reagan!

    Which of our presidential candidates today can say, " Mr Maḥmūd Aḥmadinejād, dissmantle your nuclear weapons program..." and actually have compliance from Iran? I can see Obama saying that and getting results. As for Clinton, she is likely to just breakdown in tears during tet-a-tet talks, as she did in NH. We need emotinoal resilence as well as good leadership skills. The White House is not for the weak in constitution!

    Obama communicates with people in a unique way, if you can't see beyond words and letters (kindergarten level) you'll probably miss a lot of what he's communicating. Look deeper – my suggestion!

    January 18, 2008 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
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