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In his own words: Barack Obama on Ronald Reagan

February 4, 2008 |  9:24 am

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

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