Factcheck.org Verifies Obama Side of the Reagan Controversy

Factcheck.org has reviewed the debates and, as usual, found that all the candidates made statements which can be questioned. The ones which were the most significant regarded the distortions of Obama’s statement on Ronald Reagan by Hillary Clinton. This includes two distortions, the first regarding Obama and Republican ideas.

Clinton attacked Obama for supposedly supporting Republican ideas, which she said included federal deficits and “privatizing” Social Security:

Clinton: [He] has said in the last week that he really liked the ideas of the Republicans over the last 10 to 15 years, and we can give you the exact quote. … They were ideas like privatizing Social Security, like moving back from a balanced budget and a surplus to deficit and debt.

Obama pushed back, saying he had never endorsed such notions:

Clinton: [You] talked about the Republicans having ideas over the last 10 to 15 years.
Obama: I didn’t say they were good ones.
Clinton: Well, you can read the context of it.
Obama: Well, I didn’t say they were good ones. …
Clinton: It certainly came across in the way that it was presented…

We can’t speak to how things “came across” to Clinton, but we’ve listened to the entire interview and to our ears, it’s just flatly false that Obama said he “really liked the ideas of the Republicans.” Clinton is referring to what Obama told the editorial board of the Reno Gazette-Journal. A video is available on the Internet.

Here’s what Obama actually said in the portion to which Clinton referred:

Obama (Jan. 14, 2008): The Republican approach has played itself out. I think it’s fair to say that 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, it’s all tax cuts. Well, we know, we’ve done that; we’ve tried it. That’s not really going to solve our energy problems, for example.

There’s a difference between praising someone for having ideas and praising the idea itself. Obama is doing the former – and just as clearly not doing the latter. He says the GOP approach has “played itself out,” for example.

It’s also false to imply – as Clinton did – that Obama endorsed Republican proposals to set up private Social Security accounts or that he praised deficit spending. We listened to the entire 49-minute interview, and Obama said no such thing.

The second issue regards the following quote from Obama’s interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal:

I don’t want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what’s different are the times. I do think that, for example, the 1980 election was different. I mean, 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. I think they felt like, you know, with all the excesses of the ’60s and the ’70s, you know government had grown and grown, but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating, and I think people just tapped into – he tapped into what people were already feeling, which is we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism, and, and, you know, entrepreneurship that had been missing.

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 feels like things as they are going right now aren’t working, that we’re bogged down in the same arguments that we’ve been having, and they’re not useful. And the Republican approach, I think, has played itself out. I think it’s fair to say that 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, it’s all tax cuts. Well, we know, we’ve done that; we’ve tried it. That’s not really going to solve our energy problems, for example.

Factcheck commented on the charges that Obama was praising Reagan:

Obama also has been taking heat for praising Ronald Reagan in that same interview. See the text box to the left for his exact words. Clinton tried to avoid mentioning that, for good reason, but Obama turned it against her anyway:

Obama: The irony of this is that you provided much more fulsome praise of Ronald Reagan in a book by Tom Brokaw that’s being published right now, as did – as did Bill Clinton in the past. So these are the kinds of political games that we are accustomed to.

Obama is correct: Both Bill and Hillary Clinton have lauded Reagan’s political skills. Tom Brokaw’s “Boom! Voices of the Sixties” quotes Clinton as saying that Reagan was “a child of the Depression” who understood pressures on the working and middle class:

Hillary Clinton (in Brokaw book): When he had those big tax cuts and they went too far, he oversaw the largest tax increase. He could call the Soviet Union the Evil Empire and then negotiate arms-control agreements. He played the balance and the music beautifully.

And here’s Bill Clinton in 1998 at the dedication of the Reagan Building in Washington, D.C.:

Bill Clinton (May 5, 1998): The only thing that could make this day more special is if President Reagan could be here himself. But if you look at this atrium, I think we feel the essence of his presence: his unflagging optimism, his proud patriotism, his unabashed faith in the American people. I think every American who walks through this incredible space and lifts his or her eyes to the sky will feel that.

We’ll leave it to others to decide who’s praising Reagan more. The fact is that Bill and Hillary have done it, not just Obama.

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