What happened
Barack Obama implicitly compared his candidacy to the 1980 campaign of Ronald Reagan during an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal editorial board. The 2008 election, he said, could put us on a “fundamentally different path,” like Kennedy’s 1960 election and Reagan’s 1980 victory. "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.
Rival Democratic candidate John Edwards retorted, “I can promise you this: this president will never use Ronald Reagan as an example for change.” (The Washington Post, free registration)
What the commentators said
Obama’s “philosophical optimism and charismatic manner” can come across “as too idealistic, even a tad dreamy,” said the Reno Gazette-Journal editorial board in its endorsement of Obama. But he sets himself apart from the other Democrats in the race with his “courage to stand his ground,” as demonstrated in his willingness “to salute” both Kennedy and Reagan “as agents of change in times when the country needed change.”
“There are many reasons progressives should admire Ronald Reagan, politically speaking,” said Matt Stoller in the Open Left blog, but come on. Obama apparently “agrees with Reagan’s basic frame that the 1960s and 1970s were full of ‘excesses’ and that government had grown large and unaccountable.” That plays into Republican efforts to reshape Reagan’s legacy into “a coherent narrative of GOP ascendancy.” Reagan wasn’t “a sunny optimist,” but a “savvy politician using a civil rights backlash to catapult conservatives to power.”
What a “bunch of left-wing baloney,” said Donald Douglas in the American Power blog. The harsh response to Obama’s comments just demonstrates “the fundamental irrationality of many on the left.” Obama is the only candidate running who has “captured this season’s underlying dynamic of change.” Besides, he’s “not endorsing Reagan’s policies” but rather “recognizing his ability to generate a movement.”
“The move Obama is attempting seems like the right way to go,” said Josh Patashnik in The New Republic’s The Plank blog. He could have done more to distinguish the “pernicious attitudes” that helped push Reagan to power from the “legitimate ones.” But Obama seems to recognize that if “Democrats ever hope to get fifty percent of the vote,” they can’t go “telling blue-collar voters in Michigan and Pennsylvania that they’re intolerant morons who were duped by an actor’s smile.”