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In his own words: Barack Obama on Ronald Reagan

Words are important tools for communicating, not least when a nation is choosing a new national leader. From time to time the Ticket will publish an entire exchange or text so that readers can see the complete context.

In this case the simmering controversy leading up to tomorrow's crucial votes concerns a statement made by Barack Obama during an interview with the editorial board of the Reno Gazette-Journal in mid-January. The newspaper released a video of the meeting, and within hours Bill and Hillary Clinton were attacking Obama in their campaign events for some of his words. They're still going at it.

Read the entire text of the Obama statement, then read how the Clintons described it, and let us know in the Comments section whether you think theirs was a fair and accurate description or whether Obama was being unfaithful to his Democratic Party. This is a revealing example of modern political dialogue during the pressure cooker of American campaigns.

Candidate Obama was asked by the Reno journalists how his being the nominee would help members of Congress, senators and others down the party ballot.

Barack Obama:

"I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. They felt like, you know, with all the excesses of the '60s and the '70s and government ...

had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating and he tapped into what people were already feeling.

"Which is, people wanted clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamic and entrepreneurship that had been missing, all right? I think Kennedy, 20 years earlier, moved the country in a fundamentally different direction. So I think a lot of it just has to do with the times.

"I think we're in one of those times right now. Where people feel like things as they are going aren't working. We're bogged down in the same arguments that we've been having, and they're not useful. And, you know, the Republican approach, I think, has played itself out.

"I think it's fair to say the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10, 15 years, in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom. Now, you've heard it all before. You look at the economic policies when they're being debated among the presidential candidates and it's all tax cuts.

"Well, you know, we've done that, we tried it. That's not really going to solve our energy problems, for example. So, some of it's the times. And some of it's, I think, there's maybe a generation element to this, partly. In the sense that there's a -- I didn't come of age in the battles of the '60s. I'm not as invested in them. And so I think I talk differently about issues. And I think I talk differently about values. And that's why I think we've been resonating with the American people."

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Hillary Clinton: ""My leading opponent the other day said that he thought the Republicans had better ideas than Democrats the last 10 to 15 years. That's not the way I remember the last 10 to 15 years. I don't think it's a better idea to privatize Social Security. I don't think it's a better idea to try to eliminate the minimum wage.

"I don't think it's a better idea to undercut health benefits and to give drug companies the right to make billions of dollars by providing prescription drugs to Medicare recipients. I don't think it's a better idea to shut down the government, to drive us into debt. I think we know what needs to be done in America and I think we're ready to do it. I'm ready to lead on Day One." 

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Bill Clinton, speaking of his wife: "Her principal opponent said that since 1992, the Republicans have had all the good ideas. I can't imagine any Democrat seeking the presidency would say they were the party of new ideas for the last 15 years. But it sounded good in Reno, I guess.... So now it turns out you can choose between somebody who thinks our ideas are better or the Republicans had all the good ideas."

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The Comments section is open below.

-- Andrew Malcolm

 
Comments () | Archives (25)

The comments to this entry are closed.

For twenty years, I was apathetic and cynical about the political process. None of the candidates ever captured my loyalty. It always seemed as if we voters always had to pick the better of two pretty bad choices.

That changed after my review of Senator Barack Obama's campaign. His campaign has been relentlessly positive. When he has criticized his opponents, it has always been on legitimate differences, never making up falsehoods. He has run an honorable campaign. After 11 years in elected office, and years spent as an attorney and organizer, he has the experience to know how to accomplish change in Washington, and, more importantly, has the ability to inspire us so that we can accomplish positive change together.

Supporting Senator Obama came surprisingly easy for this apathetic, cynical voter. I even volunteered for his campaign, calling people I do not even know to see if they would consider voting for him.

And there I found something a bit astonishing. People rarely act outside of their demographic.

White women over 50 say they will vote for Clinton, reflexively-- no discussion necessary. Older people in general planned to vote for Clinton. Younger people were more open to Obama, but people from several non-African-American ethnic groups often leaned toward Clinton.

I do not understand this mentality, although as an Asian-American male, I am neither a woman nor black. Maybe I am free to choose, since I do not have class loyalty to consider?

To those who made up your minds early, I ask: THINK before you decide. Please don't pick a person just because that person happens to be a member of a sociological class to which you belong. Pick the genuinely best candidate. That person might not be of your gender, or of your race, or of your ethnicity.

Clinton has my respect, for she is an extremely accomplished speaker and very clear on the details of the plans she would implement. I believe she is a worthy candidate for the Democrats. In fact, she is one of the best candidates we have had in a long time. The only problem is, she is running for the nomination against someone who outclasses her. Obama is just as intelligent, just as accomplished, but he far surpasses her in integrity, in reasoned judgment, and in leadership skills.

Senator Obama is the best candidate I have ever encountered in twenty years of suffrage. That is why I am voting for him--- and volunteering for him-- and I hope that I would be able to see this no matter what race, gender, ethnicity, age I might be.

It appears that we are no longer electing a President but watching some sort of odd reality show were we are electing the National Spokesmodel. Obama gets that it isn't really ideas that will win this election, it is all about form over substance.

Many of us supported him in the beginning did so as a symbolic statement. "Wouldn't it be a great message to the black community if we had a black president" but he hasn't demonstrated the ability to work across the asile even in this campaign. His comments at the debates about Hillary being "likable enough" with his apparent disdain started the shift and the recent disclosures in the New York Times over the weekend that he took over $200,000 from the nuclear power industry at the same time he was taking credit for passing legislation to require disclosure of leaks that didn't pass was the final straw.

We have seen flashes of his ego as well. Personally I also am mystifyed why the press seems to focus on Senator's Clinton when she is touched by something and that is a weakness but Senator Obama's passion is an asset? We have all seen what happens when you elect someone you "like" who is the great uniter.. That was Bush remember?

The Clinton response is ridiculous. Obama was pointing out a truth, like it or not, that Regan changed the playing field and the country. He did. Bill Clinton never had a clear mandate nor did he change much. Many reasons for that, but it's the bottom line.

Unfortunately, here's yet another Clinton attempt at shading the truth to fit their own goals. NCLB=No Clinton Left Behind.

This is a great example of why people do not trust the Clinton's. This is not even just a trick with words but a great example of how the Hillary would be as a President. After defending the Clinton's for all these years, I know have to say that their critic's were right.

Part of the difficulty here is that Obama was not specific, and his statement can be interpreted in different ways. I agree with Obama that Reagan changed the trajectory of the country, but certainly not in a positive direction, which is what Obama clearly seems to be stating. The Clintons responded to his vague praise of Reagan appropriately. I don't want a democrat in office that is looking to Reagan as a role model. I applaud the strong stands that Obama has taken against the war, and against immigrant-scapegoating, and abhor that Clinton voted for the war in Iraq. But we don't need another democrat who wants to move even farther to the center than President Clinton. I'm surprised - and concered - that Obama for all his rhetoric of hope and change seems to be doing just that.

Why are people surprised when the Clintons shade the truth? Don't they remember that Bill Clinton looked right into the camera and blatantly lied to the American people? The transparency in government is starting already - Americans can see right through Hillary Clinton's smokescreen! Go Obama!

Not surprising to those of us who actually watched the Clintons in action during Bill's Presidency. The two of them were dishonest then and nothing has changed.

I voted for Regan and I would have been ok with Obama if he liked Regan's ideas, but he does not and the Clintons are simply liars for saying that he did.

I am still going to vote for Obama although he and I have differences on a number of policies. He was right about Iraq and, for me, that trumps any other issue.

Alan
white, middle-aged, ex-Republican for Obama

As usual, another excellent post. This blog continues to be a one-stop shop for analysis of the primary race.

As to the issue itself, this provides a perfect example of the damage Obama and Clinton are inflicting on each other and, by extension, on the Democratic Party's chances of defeating Team McCain in November. By continuing to paint herself as the more liberal of the two candidates, Clinton has completely undone the work she did in the U.S. Senate, which demonstrated that she could be a moderate pragmatist who was able to cross party lines to accomplish her goals. The longer the Democratic race is unsettled, the more difficult it will be for Clinton (or Obama, on the chance he wins) to appeal to independents and moderates in November against McCain.

Obama's comments were a relatively objective and thoughtful analysis of the Reagan legacy. Indeed, the Clinton administration's approach to welfare reform is rooted in the Reagan legacy, rather than the historical Democratic Party platform on this subject. Hillary Clinton (and her husband) are attempting to make gut reaction appeals to an ever dwindling group of "yellow dog" Democratic voters. Obama is addressing the historical basis for currently accepted concepts. He's an intellectual, though a pragmatic one. That's why he appeals to highly educated middle of the road voters. Rigid idealogy may make you feel good, but it doesn't help you get elected or govern.

It became easy to switch to Barak because the Clintons' conspiratorial acts seek to deceive us into believing Barak is not an agent of change but an advocate of flawed Republican ideas.

Barak stated, "Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10, 15 years, in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom"

Hillary deceives us by falsely stating, "he thought the Republicans had better ideas than Democrats the last 10 to 15 years". Bill advanced the conspiracy to lie about Barak by falsely stating, ""Her principal opponent said that since 1992, the Republicans have had all the good ideas".

Barak's statement was a truthful value-neutral claim that was falsely represented so that Democrats would be deceived into nominating Hillary. Barak neither stated those ideas were "better ideas" nor that they were "good ideas". He only said-accurately-that those ideas "were challenging conventional wisdom" and that they resonated with the public because of the socio-economic context of those times. Barak depicted Republicans as regurgitating stale ideas (tax cuts and more tax cuts) that were tried and failed and that cannot solve other noneconomic issues. He then contrasted those ideas with how he talks differently about issues and values and how his position resonates with voters in these troubled times.

thankfully, most people get it. i just don't understand why obama's statement needed so much explanation (which to me seemed more like "dumbing down"). what he said is something that would be completely understandable and debatable in the halls of any university -- or even high school civics class. he was making an analysis, not advocating a political platform. however, when news outlets indicate that obama's appeal more often resonates with voters who are higher educated/paid, the fact that some supporters of hillary clinton (herself more often supported by lesser-educated/lower-wage-earning voters) quickly and easily read it to mean obama thinks republicans are better than democrats. that's not what he said, and frankly -- without trying to grandstand here -- clinton supporters very much are mirroring the unthinking/i'll-follow-you-anywhere support that our current leader (who also appealed to the under-educated electorat) garnered eight years ago. clearly, obama appeals to a more intelligent citizen, and the general public may not yet comprise enough of those.

Politically, Obama shot himself in the foot with the Reagan analysis but was factually correct. He was having a somewhat academic discussion without realizing the political consequences. As his campaign progress, he's learning "on the job" that ever move and comment is going to be parsed to death; most recently, the perceived snub at the SOTU speech with Kennedy and Clinton shaking hands, then later followed by Obama's gentleman gesture of helping Mrs Clinton from her chair at the close of the debates at the Kodak Theatre last week.

to Jerry Tsai: I am happy to disagree with you on your view of white women over 50: I am one of them, and I would have liked to vote for a woman for president, but no one gets my automatic support. Period. In fact, Clinton has not done enough to impress me that I want her to be president and I strongly feel that her candidacy will only promote more red/blue division and irrational hatred in this country. So I will not be voting for her. I am supporting Obama.

That said, I do think Obama needs to clarify and defend his remarks. If in fact, he thinks that the Republican ideas of the past 10 years were good ones, he is flat wrong, but I don't really think that's what he was saying. It just made good campaign fodder for Clinton². No surprise there.

Clinton's had every right to go after obama for claiming the republicans had the ideas over the past 10-15 year that went against conventional wisdom. Hillary and Bill went after him for what he said and meant. It wasn't the republicans ideas that brought about fiscal responsibility, balanced budgets, 23 million new jobs, etc. And it was a clear swipe at Bill, he wanted a fight with him.

Hillary's country wide townhall meeting tonight 9 p.m. eastern time on Hallmark channel and live stream from her website. First time in history.

http://hillaryclinton.com/

After reading the complete statement, I feel like both sides were clouding the truth on this a little. On the one hand, Obama was objectively analyzing Reagan, but in doing so, he was really putting Reagan on a pedestal above Bill Clinton as a president. I think that for some hard core Democrats, that is an unforgivable sin.

BUT I think that Hillary Rodham Clinton way overdramatized the point. It is a little bit shady to try and throw something in a candidates face when they are being candid and telling the truth. This is a similar tactic to John McCain telling auto workers in Detroit that some jobs that have gone overseas simply aren't coming back (a truthful statement)... and then Romney attacking McCain for being someone from Washington who is not fighting for American jobs.

The increasing dissemination of information (through forums such as this one) makes tactics like these far less effective. In Michigan, Romney won the battle while it looks like McCain will win the war. In Clinton's case, I think that she scored a hit in the debate, but the whole truth reinforces a preconceived notion that the Clintons are not forthright with the American people.

shame on hillary, after reading the entire text i realize how she likes to fool people, she always attack barack obama falsely, barack obama is honest, intellegent, and has good judgement, he voted against the iraq war, hillary clinton voted to go to war in iraq, and now our troops are dying every minutes because of hillary clinton

I'm getting really tired of the love affair the media is having with Obama. Using Ronald Reagan as an example of change and inspiration was not the best route to take. He should be criticized for his remark. It makes him look like a Republican which is something we do not need four more years of. Could you imagine if Clinton had made this same remark. The media would have a feeding frenzy ripping her to pieces.

I like Obama fine and will vote for him in the general election if he is the nominee but there appears to be a double standard applied here. Why is it that in 2008 sexism seems to still be alive and apparently okay with at least the media and the majority of posters on this blog while discrimination against other disaffected groups are taboo?

When THIS much crap throwing over a statement that doesn't even include so much as a suggestion of a POLICY, never mind an actual ACTION ITEM...

I can only thank the Master of the Universe than I'm a Republican, and not responsible for voting EITHER the lying harpy or the incredibly naive philosopher into a candidacy for President of this nation.

What the HELL are you Demogogues thinking??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

You know, when the campaign started a lifetime or two ago I was inclined to support Senator Clinton because I knew something about her policies and found them acceptable. When, over time, I became equally familiar with Senator Obama's stance on the issues it became kind of a toss-up. There really aren't a lot of differences in their political philosophies, are there?

There are, however, huge differences in their characters with Senator Obama coming out on top. Senator Clinton and her surrogates have displayed a pettiness, an underhandedness, an arrogance and a complete disregard for the truth that I just don't want to see in the White House again.

I now support Senator Obama 100%. I can't think of anything I'd rather see than him accepting the Democratic nomination except him giving his inaugural address. If Senator Clinton gets the nod, I will not only vote against her in the general election, I will work my hind end off for her opponent.

His comments were an analysis of how the Republicans advanced their political agenda through the 90's. Party of ideas meant “smaller government to reduce spending”, “social conservatism to restore family values” and “big defense to show patriotism”. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but this is what has been touted by every Republican since the 1980's and the latest president was elected on this platform for two terms.
The conviction with which Republican Party members adhere to such ideologies with no obvious advancement (benefit) domestically or abroad is proof that these ideas were rather unconventional. I thought Bill Clinton was a very good president, but because he triangulated every difficult policy decision, he made it very hard for the next Democratic nominee to sell the party's platform. And as a result, he didn't transform the political landscape. He left the rest of the Democrats looking like big-spending, secular, out-of-touch elitist who will run this country into debt and submission.
Now the disturbing thing is that Bill Clinton has alluded to the same influence Republicans have had over the common electorate in his autobiography. It's really disturbing that the Clintons, who have made such acknowledgements themselves in the past about Republicans and their ideas, are simply using Obama's analysis to scare voters who can’t read into it accurately. They know they can deceptively spin it in their “win-at-all cost” strategy, although they most definitely understand and agree with his analysis.
Obama makes these statements so that Democrats, who should finally want to lead the trajectory of this country, can see where we stand in this election. We have the opportunity to have a 60-70% working majority, not the Clinton 50+1%, to change the trajectory of this country where the Democratic ideas can be selling points. This can only be done with someone who can cross party lines, much like Ronald Reagan had his coalition of Democrats voting for his agenda.
I think it would be naive to think that Hillary could get a better working majority than Bill and accomplish anymore than him. That being said, we can elect Obama to finally let the country experience universal health care, an adequately-funded public school system, energy independence, job growth, a stable economy and the highest international standing of several generations.
There is no shortage of great legislators and policy wonks to fine-tune every piece of legislation needed to improve this country. Hillary tries to convince voters that her knowledge on the issues will translate into her ideas all passing into law. Remember that "dont' ask, don't tell" and the failed healthcare reform were not the result of the Clinton's administration incapacity in experience and intellect.
These compromises and failures were the result of not being able to pull forward a good working majority on the issues. What is needed now, after 20 years of Dems vs. Reps. in the Congress, is a visionary leader who can unite the politicians and the populace to an agenda that is good for America. Only Obama is in a position to do this. He's got Democrats, Independents and Republicans supporting his candidacy in record numbers.
Maybe after his 8 years of tenure in the White House, the Democrats will have accomplished so much good in this country that all we have to do is inspire the country with our ideas in the next election cycle. I personally don't want to see the masses think of universal health care as communism and equal rights for all as elitism a decade from now. I want Americans to look back a decade from now and say, “We have truly come into greatness.”

I have read that some polls are now putting Obama ahead Nationally. I don't expect either Hillary or Obama to win on Super (Duper) Tuesday, but it now looks as though Obama may come out slightly. It is the Clinton's fault, because they shaded the truth but forgot how much more savvy the media has become, especially in blogs like this one. Obama was objectively right, and he was clever to realize that the uncommitted voters are mostly moderates who voted for Reagan. He really ticked off my democrat wife, however, who will never forgive Reagan for being, um, dense. Oh well. Go Obama!

According to Obama age's he was a teenager ( maybe) when Reagan was elected so I will give him some slack on his statement in Reno and probable his statement about Reagan never affected his lifestyle. He is not knowledgable about the FACTS that Reagan made some BAD decisions he was the one who BUSTED the Air Traffic Controllers Union, AT&T was broken up. Also during his administration Oil rigs were built off the coast of California and Alaska. He distroyed the enviroment around the country. After he started the terrior of attacking the Unions he gave the large Corporations the Tax cuts stating that they would use them ( tax cuts) to improve their facilities and cross train and hire new employees. This never happen as the large Corporations received the Taxes cuts, closed some facilities and laid off employees because they challenged the Unions and their authority as Reagon was speaking out against the Unions, subsequently laws were passed to deactivate some unions in some states. THIS WAS THE BEGINNING OF CORPORATIONS SETTING UP SATELITE COMPANIES PRODUCING AND MANUFACTURING GOODS IN BORDER TOWNS IN MEXICO AND LATER CENTRAL AMERICA WHICH INTURN INCREASED THE TRUCKING AND DRUG TRAFFIC ACROSS THE BORDER AND JOBS LEAVING THE COUNTRY. These changes in our Union Laws only favor the Corporations and the the Blue collar workers suffered because it eliminated the checks and balances that were in the country's working conditions. Some of us remember the doing of the Reagan administration even if OBAMA does not.

PS: I would like to see Clinton win the election only because I think she would do an EXCELLENT job and this message is coming from a person of COLOR.

JoseM : You have forgotten one thing during the Clinton administration that BOTH HOUSES OF CONGRESS WERE REPUBLICAN. --------

"I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. They felt like, you know, with all the excesses of the '60s and the '70s and government had grown and grown but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating and he tapped into what people were already feeling.

"Which is, people wanted clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamic and entrepreneurship that had been missing, all right? I think Kennedy, 20 years earlier, moved the country in a fundamentally different direction. So I think a lot of it just has to do with the times."

If all you read is this, it really does seem as if Obama is unambiguously praising Reagan.

"I think we're in one of those times right now. Where people feel like things as they are going aren't working. We're bogged down in the same arguments that we've been having, and they're not useful. And, you know, the Republican approach, I think, has played itself out."

Here Obama is clearly indicating his disagreement with the Republican approach but on the grounds that it "has played itself out." This qualification seems to imply that, in Obama's opinion, it was previously working out.

"I think it's fair to say the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10, 15 years, in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom. Now, you've heard it all before. You look at the economic policies when they're being debated among the presidential candidates and it's all tax cuts."

Obama comes very close to praising the Republicans w/o quite going over the line. Saying that they "were the party of ideas" sounds like a compliment in the making until he qualifies the observation with "in that they were challenging the conventional wisdom" — a somewhat indirect way of implying criticism.

Obama then goes on to offer important criticism but does it in an extremely mild way. He never explicitly states that their ideas are bad ideas, though he clearly imply that that is his opinion.

I think the Clintons got him wrong, but I can see how easily it could have happened. And, if you consider the context that when those idea Obama cites from "the party of ideas" came at the expense of the Clinton administration, it isn't hard to see how they could have gotten just a little huffy over the statement. Therefore, though the Clintons did get him wrong I think it's fair to say that Obama deserves some of the blame for not making his dislike of Republican ideas more explicit, especially in regards to Reagan, though a closer reading by the Clinton camp would have also helped.

Linjack, you just proved me right with what you posted. Reagan accomplished the laundry list items you mentioned with a working majority of both Democrats and Republicans. Now Obama never said Reagan accomplished positive change, but implied that he changed domestic policy even if it was for the worse.
And on another note, Democrats lost seats in Congress in 1994 after the failed healthcare reform and "don't ask, don't tell". Obama can change the trajectory of this country if he is elected. However, instead republican policies being enacted it would be democratic ones.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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