Barack Obama found himself under fire on Thursday for having compared his candidacy to Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential run.
"I don't want to present myself as some sort of singular figure," he told the Reno Journal Gazette editorial board earlier this week. "I think part of what is different is the times. I do think that, for example, the 1980 election was different. 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."
The remark did not go over well in progressive circles. On Thursday, Sen. John Edwards, Obama's opponent for the Democratic nomination, ripped into him for the analogy, saying, "I can promise you this: this president will never use Ronald Reagan as an example for change."
But while Obama has felt the heat from within his own party, several former Reagan officials and even his son suggest that there are elements of historical truth to the comparison.
"If I understand what he was saying I can't entirely disagree with it. They both came along at times when society was on the cusp of change and they are both agents of change," Ron Reagan Jr, told the Huffington Post. "As far as Barack Obama being a similar agent of change, that remains to be seen. But what I do see him saying is that we are in a historical moment right now like the 60s and 80s. And I think he's right. We are overdue for a cultural shift."
Other Reagan aides grabbed onto the comparison, drawing historical similarities between the end of the Carter administration and the contemporary political landscape. The economic malaise and hangover from Vietnam of the late 1970s, they argued, are analogous in some ways to the middle class unrest and backlash to neo-conservatism today. And yet, for several Reaganites, it was the tone and tenor of Obama that best echoed the image of their former boss.
"Ronald Reagan was an inspirational leader who also was a uniter. There was never any vindictive stuff to the other side," said Lawrence Korb, a former Reagan aide and current Obama supporter who serves as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. "In 1983, when you had the commission to fix Social Security, which basically gave us 20 more years with the program, after it was over Reagan would not campaign against any [Democrat] who supported that. And the harshest thing he said against [Walter] Mondale was that he was too young. There was never any of this vindictiveness... I think Obama is trying to get us back to that pleasantness."
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