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. tom

    To Mark C. Eades- Out of curiosity, were you born stupid or did you have to take pills? Your comment about the repubs is totally off base. There is a reason that there has only been 2 dem administrations snce the '60s. In what should be a dem landslide this November is far from that. Why? The pathetic losers at the front of the dem charge. Half the country HATES hillary clinton. Nothing she can say or do or even what the repubs do will change that. Obama HUSSEIN Barack is not electable. When in the election booth, when it's time to pull the lever it will not be for Oprah's darling and like in the last election the dim dems will be wondering around saying – What happend? John Edwards is simply the weakest dem candidate since George McGovern. Inspite of Bushes ineptitude, the USA on the average is political just right of center. Unitl the dem party booses recognize that histroy will contiue to repeat itself.

    January 18, 2008 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  2. Andrew, NY, NY

    Reagan was a NOT joke, that distinction belongs to Clinton
    enough said

    January 18, 2008 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  3. Glyn

    Mark, Anyone but Clinton is the only real answer. Stop being devisive like the Clintons are. Im a republican, but can see a vote for Obama coming. That is, if he continues to be inclusive.

    January 18, 2008 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  4. John Q. Public

    Obama should be criticized – Ronald Reagan brought down the communist empire that Obama would certainly try and resurrect!

    January 18, 2008 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  5. Scott, Madison, WI

    Well, big surprise!

    The Clinton cocktail drinkers are already putting to practice what Hill and Bill have been so adept at for years:

    The I'm right and you're wrong politics.

    You are with us or against us politics. (Sound all too familiar?)

    If you utter one syllable, I will take it out of context and visciously spin it to my advantage even if it means sacrificing my soul and self-respect politics.

    I will never admit when I'm wrong politics. (Bill-I-did-not-have-sex-with-that-woman and Hill I-did-not authorize-the Iraq-war-or-march-in-lockstep-with-the-Bush-administration-on-Iraq-and-Iran-before-I-was-running-for-president politics).

    I am not flawed, I'm perfect and everyone who states differently is picking on "wittle old me" politics.

    I am indignant about my policies and beliefs even when I'm lying and pandering on moment's notice politics.

    I will reinvent myself to get out of any corner I've painted myself into poiltics.

    If you don't agree with me, I will seek to personally destroy you either overtly or covertly with my sleazy, slimey operatives politics.

    And the list is endless politics ....

    January 18, 2008 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  6. Emily, Atlanta, GA

    Sen. Obama is invoking Reagan's name to attract conservative voters as if he has already won the primary.
    Oh the sense of entitlement.
    Why do we need two parties anyway? Not if both Democrats and Republicans want to be like Reagan. The Democratic party exists to counter what was wrong during Reagan's terms. Obama is misleading conservatives into thinking that he will act like Reagan, not like a Democrat.
    Is this what Obama means by his ability to unite? There is no such thing. Both parties have different ideals. They only act together if massive compromises are made. Obama will not be able to convince conservatives to share his vision with rhetoric.
    Maybe the Reagan era was full of optimism. But what about the people on the lower end of the economic gap? I am not sure if they were as optimistic.
    Obama may think he can bring optimism, but only to the segments of population that are already well-off anyway. As long as the rich and well-educated feel optimistic, it's okay to ignore the less well off, because they are the ones who have no voice anyway.

    January 18, 2008 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  7. Jessica

    Obama has the right to make any reference that he wishes, but he should have expected that a reference to Regan by a democratic presidential candidate would draw criticism. Regan did have some strong qualities, such as being a powerful public speaker and he did enact change, but what kind of change was is? And what kind of path did he set America on? One that led to a huge deficit, the blurring of the line between church and state, decimation of the laws protecting the common-wealth of our natural resources. . . That is not a legacy that I would want the next president to be associating with, especially since there are so many other former president’s that would be better role models for positive change.

    In my opinion, Edwards is the best choice for the next President of the United States. He exhibits the qualities of a truly great American President—honesty, passion, conviction, intelligence, and stamina. He is not running a negative campaign, he’s pointing out the differences between himself and the other candidates—and isn’t that the sole function of any campaign? Edwards is the only person running that is willing to take on the corporatism that has a stranglehold on America. Edwards is absolutely correct in taking a strong position against corporations. In an address to Congress on April 29th, 1938, Franklin D. Roosevelt warned against corporatism by stating, "The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism–ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power."

    Americans are in danger of losing their beloved democracy, unless someone steps up to the plate. So far, John Edwards is the only person running for the presidency that has been willing to take a stand for democracy and who has the ethical integrity to refuse funding from corporations, so that he is not beholden to the will of those corporations when it comes time to make the decisions that effect the health and welfare of Americans.

    January 18, 2008 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  8. Marge Hibbing Mn

    After those republican votes is he....he claims to be the JFK, the RFK and FDR gee it just had to lead to Reagan.

    Bet cha he goes with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson next. This guy is is Saint all rolled up in one. That is if you are a gullibile American Idol type. He surely doesn't want you to know that his best buddy was a gangster, til he had to keep it quiet. And how about those forced votes in Las VEgas. Where the members of the union, that is reported to be ruled by the mob, are being forced to vote for Obama....gee that's the kind of guy you want for a president isn't it. Just a continuation of the crap that we have in there now.

    January 18, 2008 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  9. Bonnie O., Raleigh, NC

    It's amusing to see how quickly his opponents put Mr. Obama down. They STILL don't see that what a lot of us like about him is his refreshing, non-political, non-partisan agenda. Keep bringing change, Mr. Obama, it is sorely needed in this country.

    Just imagine folks, a candidate who actually has the nerve to admire someone outside of his own party. How refreshing!

    Obama '08!

    January 18, 2008 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  10. Robert

    Obama's comment is correct, Reagan did put the country on a different path. His presidency marks a watershed, regardless what you think of the changes he made. Edwards lost a lot of points with me for jumping on this remark. It may be uncomfortable for a partisan Democrat to acknowledge, but the essence is true.

    January 18, 2008 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  11. Ryan Indianapolis

    Sorry John "You are no Ronald Reagan"..............

    January 18, 2008 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  12. Hussein Obama

    Who is Obama to speak down upon Reagan or Clinton? At least they were real leaders and had experience. Obama doesn't have room to speak about anything.

    January 18, 2008 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  13. Llisa

    This is just one more reason why I would support Obama over Clinton or Edwards any day! Edwards just wants to stir it up as controversial so he can get his name back in everyone's mind.

    January 18, 2008 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  14. Ben

    Do these politicians really think I'm that dumb?!

    Regardless, to me there shouldn't be an R word for democrats and D word for republicans. To see Obama say this really points forward to change.

    January 18, 2008 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  15. Student. Midland, MI

    That was tacky that he brought Bill Clinton into his argument. Very obvious that it was a hit against Hillary. What happened to ending the fight between the democrats? I like him less an less after every story I read. Hillary '08!!!!!!

    January 18, 2008 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  16. Eric, San Diego

    It is obvioust that Barack Obama is idolizing Ronald Reagan. We don't need to regress to the Ronald Reagan area to exemplify change. What is the matter with Obama, why does he have to use Ronald Reagan as an example to justify the change he is trying to bring to America.

    Ronald Reagan did not do well for the voters that Obama is trying to court. It is one thing to be partisan, but I just believe John Edwards is sticking to his democratic roots. Some things have to be said, and approving of the type of change that Ronald Reagan brought to this country is not the right thing to mirror.

    John Edwards 2008! The only candidate who is not deep in the pocket books of special interests and lobbyists. Lets vote for real progressive change!

    January 18, 2008 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  17. Tiger dog

    Goodbye John Edwards. Take your old tired ideas and just run away. You offer no solutions and no answers. Ronald Reagan did change this country and for the better in a lot of instances. It is obvious you truly are like 7UP – never had it -never will.

    January 18, 2008 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  18. Damon

    Ah the karma of political spin. Obama twists Clinton's words beyond recognition. Edwards twists Obama's words beyond recognition. I guess it's Clinton's turn.

    January 18, 2008 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  19. Crazy

    If Bill Clinton was not an agent of change, why does Barack have some many of former Clinton aides on his campaign. His statement, as best doesn't make sense; at worse, is hypocritical.

    January 18, 2008 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  20. len

    Wasn't Reagan head of the Screen Actors Guild when he was a Hollywood-type?

    January 18, 2008 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  21. Johnson

    Hey E in Germany:

    Checked out the info- He looks like a SOCIALIST. That must be why you Europeans like him so much. As a middle class America I DO NOT want any more of MY money going to the lazy bums flipping burgers in this country. You were a lazy turd in high school and now you are paying the price. I will however pay you money if you stop reproducing

    January 18, 2008 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  22. AJ, IL

    All you Edwards' supporters need to learn about your candidate as well as listen to his stump speech. Edwards' need to stop wasting taxpayer money (public financing) and drop out. MORE TO COME....

    January 18, 2008 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  23. Jen Cedar Falls, IA

    Obama wasn't talking about Reagan's political views.

    Obama was speaking of the movement, the energy, the passion, the change in Washington and our country that we desperately needed.

    Edwards must just be hoping and praying that you all aren't smart enough to know the difference between what Obama said and what Edwards is trying to get you to think Obama said (including the press).

    Get a clue, wake up your brain, take a fresh look again, Obama was NOT agreeing with Reagan's policies!

    Good Grief people!

    January 18, 2008 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  24. Walt, Belton, TX

    Comments like Edward's is why he can not do any better than third place.

    January 18, 2008 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  25. Eric, San Diego

    Every President brings about change in America. Now the question you have to ask yourself is it good or bad? In Ronald Reagans case it is not very good if your beliefs lie with the mainstream of the democratic party.

    January 18, 2008 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
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