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. Pam, Long Beach, CA

    Boy oh boy...You Obama Kool-Aid drinkers accept anything this guy says. I suppose the fact that his mentor was that traitor to Democrats, Joe Leiberman, is perfectly acceptable too. He's a jerk.

    I don't trust him, I don't like him and I think he's a hypocrit He actually should run as a republican. He's about as progressive as Reagan was too...not at all!

    January 18, 2008 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  2. Tunstall, Barbara



    January 18, 2008 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  3. harold

    Reagan will be noted for the 2 Trillion or more debt he created....He had no idea how to run the government. The only thing he knew is how to get elected by buying off the special interests and the voters who could care less about health care coverage..

    He was a smooth talker, granted, and a swell guy...but running the government he only looked upon it in knee jerk fashion...and contricted spincter attitude. Also he mouthed off about a balanced budget how important that was, and small government. Did it turn out that way?

    January 18, 2008 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  4. berrienisd

    OBAMA'S NO REAGAN - that's the first thing that needs to be said.

    Also, maybe Obama's point is that the Republicans(ie Reagan) are as capable of change as he thinks he is? I think they're more capable of change. After all fighting over black-white race issues is OLD SCHOOL, as in Chicago 1968, hippies and flower power. I'm sick, sick, sick of it. I thought this crap went away with Humphrey and the demise of the auto unions.

    Obama has only one thing he's running on–he's black. Period. Oh, and he keeps yelling "change," but never says what he wants to change. Maybe he doesn't know.

    News media–you want something to print?? Print his history. Print that he has a Muslim family and a Muslim upbringing. Print that he has illegal real estate deals in his past. Print all the stuff you're avoiding as you give him a free ride.

    Are you saving this stuff for later, in case he gets the nomination, or what???

    January 18, 2008 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  5. 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!

    Sorry for the 2nd post, But CNN seems to only post pro Obama comment's on her and I thought I would try again.

    January 18, 2008 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  6. Radha

    Obama just lost my vote.

    He is now no more than a rebublican in disguise – taking advantage of the political climate that is favor of the democrats.


    January 18, 2008 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  7. veronica

    I don't think bringing up Ronald Reagan is a good idea when you're trying to win Democratic primaries! RR is NOT popular with Democrats and with good reason. Looks like a not very subtle approach to win Republican votes, which Obama will not get..
    Obama will also not get my vote.

    January 18, 2008 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  8. Stacy Clarks, Texas

    It shows on both Edwards and Clinton that if they need to grovel and pick at little quotes like these to win the presidency, then they are desperate and running thin. There is nothing legitimate to fault Obama on in this comment. He was making an analogy on the change he wants to make, not that he was in love with his policies. All people need to do is read Obama's website to see that he does not support the policies that Reagan implemented

    As to Fred in Reston, Va, while your zeal for Obama is refreshing, I do not think this is about race, this is about everyone, about whites/blacks/reds/blues, and Obama is looking to bring eveyrone together, and we need to start thinking about that as a country to get over race....

    OBAMA 08!!!!

    January 18, 2008 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  9. Eric, San Diego

    What is the big deal for what Edwards said? He has referred to Teddy Roosevelt on many occasions. So he is not singling out all republicans. Lets get real here; he just doesnt agree with Obama about Reagan.

    January 18, 2008 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  10. Jacque Bauer

    The sage from San Antonio known as Brendan said "Ronald Reagan did for unions what joe Hazelwood did for inland waterway navigatgion skills!!!"

    And what a great thing that was! Show me an industry in the US where having unionized labor has made it more productive and competitive, and hence provides a brighter future for its employees? Almost always these industries are bloated and on the brink of implosion, if they have not been lost already.

    Harken back into yesteryear when the disastrous liberal policies of the linguini-spined Jimmy Carter gave us unprecidented unemployment, hyper-inflation and REAL dispair and misery (not the perception of malaise manufactured by today's Democrats). These were the salad days of the unions!

    Then Reagan rode a white stalion confidently into the White House and cleaned house. Sorry unions, but your gravy train was knocked off the track, and America was off and running in an economic boom that has lasted until today. We have the richest "poverty class" on earth that have cars, home ownership, conveniences of modern appliances, education, general safety and security, and an unlimited future if they want it. They pay NO income tax. (We somehow do this by also carrying the burden of about 20 million illegals who also pay no taxes, but still get all of our benefits).

    We also have the wealthiest middle class on earth, which also has the highest standard of living. We have some of the cleanest air and water in the world, despite the whinging of those who would try to lead you to believe otherwise.

    Republicans also led the civil rights reforms against attacks from the old guard Democrats, and they also created the environmental protections that we have today.

    Sorry, but I DO NOT want to return to John Edwards' fuzzy vision of America – the one that has the stench of Jimmy Carter.

    January 18, 2008 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  11. Thomas, St. Petersburg, FL

    Let's remember that President Reagan inherited the following from his predecessor, Democratic President Jimmy Carter:

    – double digit inflation;
    – double digit unemployment;
    – double digit mortgage rates;
    – 53 Americans held hostage by Iran for 444 days;
    – Spiraling energy prices;
    – Threats, both real and imagined, by the Soviet Union.


    – President Reagan left America far more respected and prosperous than the one he inherited from President Carter.

    – President Reagan is one of the most beloved chief executives in American history.

    – When Reagan's age was an issue during his reelection campaign in 1984, he threw it back at his opponents by saying (at the beginning of a debate with Democrat Walter Mondale), "I'm not going to take advantage of my opponent's youth and inexperience". Everyone laughed uncontrollably at Reagan's wonderful sense of humor.

    – While watching the 1985 movied "Back to the Future", during the scene where Doc asks Marty, "Who is president of the United States in 1985, future boy?" then Marty replies, "Ronald Reagan", and Doc says, "Ronald Reagan? The actor? Who's vice president; Jerry Lewis?"; once again, instead of being "offended" by "insensitivity" (as hypersensitive liberals would), Reagan laughed uncontrollably.

    Obama nor Edwards couldn't shine Reagan's shoes.

    January 18, 2008 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  12. Vanessa

    I never saw what twas all the hype about Reagan. All I remember was Reaganomics.
    Anyway, we should all have a right to an opinion. It's as if we are waiting for a slip of the tongue to any of the candidates to we can start complaining or bashing.

    January 18, 2008 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  13. CAL, NY, NY

    Unions are what is killing this country's competitiveness in the global economy.

    January 18, 2008 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  14. Steve, Lyons, CO

    Obama is courting moderate Republican votes. A shrewd political move, at the least.

    January 18, 2008 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  15. andrew k

    you clinton supporters are really starting to get pathetic

    January 18, 2008 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  16. lynn parker

    I dont give a damm about what BO Says. He is a Rabble Touser and belongs on a street corner. Talk, Talk, Talk and he know nothing behind the talk. Obama is a Stoehouse of useless information.

    My big surprise was that Senator Patrick Leahy was taken in by BO and his nothing remarks.

    Too,too bad

    January 18, 2008 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  17. Jay, NY

    I'm so sick and tired of hearing people bash Hillary for no reason. She didn't even say anything, has nothing to do with this and still we see the Clintons being brought into it. For people who are trying to unite the country, the Obama supporters are the ones I see who are most vehemently trying to divide us. All these anti-Hillary rants and rage is not going to bring anyone together. Try looking in the mirror before you start talking about the Clintons.

    January 18, 2008 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  18. IJ baltimore, MD

    Wow, the comments in this thread are a great example of why we need someone lik Barack Obama at the helm. He never, at any point, said what Reagan did was good for the country, just that he capitalized on a groundswell change in the nation. Can you, really, say that things didn't change under Reagan? You can't. I hated Reagan's policies, except for his dealings with the Soviet Union, but I have the intelligence and hindsight to be able to say that he tapped into something that changed the course of American politics. Obama's statement is a testament to his deep understanding of what drives American politics, and the fact that he's able to look beyond party lines to see it.
    Anyone, and I mean anyone, in this thread that takes his comments as praising Reagan, or responds by talking about him being a "traitor" to the Democratic party, congratulations: You're part of the problem.

    January 18, 2008 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  19. Tim

    Obama, you're no Reagan and never will be. Keep Dreaming.

    January 18, 2008 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  20. Paul

    Invoking Ronald Reagan is ridiculous, hands down. Obama is playing to conservative Republicans. Whether one reads that as an "I love Ronald Reagan" moment or as a marker of deeper policy issues, Obama is identifying himself with a political figure that no progressively thinking individual could possibly admire. Only if John Edwards wins could we have a president with the tenacity to stop playing bipartisan bridgebuilding games and just get something done.

    January 18, 2008 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  21. jenny

    i don't know if its me, but it just seems that CNN is always trying to find stories to place against B. Obama.
    just because a politician was from an opposing party, doesn't mean that individual did not contribute to this country. its completely insane to even suggest such a thing. if you follow Edwards logic, then no republican has ever or can ever be a good president. this is of course, rediculous.
    CNN (Clinton News Network) please don't be bias. – thanks in advance.

    OBAMA '08. -its time to bring democrates, independ., oh yeah and even REPULICANS together.

    January 18, 2008 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  22. Susan

    I agree with Tim. Obama is dreamer and a wanna be analyst. He's not qualified to run the country. Every time he talks in detail about something other than "change" (whatever that means anymore) he outs himself as naive and immature. Ya think the R's are not paying attention to these weaknesses? It's one thing to support the trendy candidate. It's another thing to support a guy who will lose the election. Clinton '08!

    January 18, 2008 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  23. danielo

    Give Reagan some little credit. He dismantled the Soviet tyrany without taking America to War with Russia.
    Maybe that was nothing!

    January 18, 2008 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  24. Steve, Lyons, CO

    "For Democrats, Obama is the Candidate of Confidence, Clinton the Candidate of Fear"

    What crap. Obama praising the addled tenure of Reagan has just ruled himself out of the presidency.

    I felt hope during Clinton's two terms that I've NEVER felt with any anti-citizen Republican.

    January 18, 2008 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  25. Tony, Tulsa, OK

    Reagan gave us supply-side baloney that resulted in massive deficits. Clinton restored the economy to sanity and presided over the longest era of peacetime economic growth in history. Obama seems to care more about looking like change rather than being change. I'll take another Clinton term over another Reagan term ANY DAY.

    January 18, 2008 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
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