Obama Compares Himself To Reagan, JFK...But Not Bill Clinton

03/28/2008 02:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Sam Stein Senior Politics Editor, The Huffington Post

In an interview Monday with the Reno Gazette-Journal editorial board, Sen. Barack Obama riffed on a range of political topics ranging from Katrina, the home mortgage crisis and, of course, fodder from the campaign trail.

But perhaps the most interesting offering was when he tried to place his candidacy into a historical context. Which elections does Obama see as analogous to 2008? And with which presidents does he share personal similarities? That would be John Kennedy in 1960 (hardly surprising) and Ronald Reagan in 1980 (more daring). But not, it should be noted, Bill Clinton in 1992.

In fact, Obama offered praise for the Gipper, lauding him for tapping into the country's concern with the growth and "excesses" of the federal government, and its desire to "return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship" -- hardly a welcomed interpretation within progressive circles. Said the Illinois Democrat:

"I don't want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. 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. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. They felt like 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. I think 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 entrepreneurship that had been missing."

Obama went on:

"I think Kennedy, 20 years earlier, moved the country in a fundamentally different direction. So I think a lot of it has to do with the times. I think we are in one of those fundamentally different times right now were people think that things, the way they are going, just aren't working."

(You can watch the full video: here -- the Reagan quote comes in around the 18:50 mark)

Obama's comment was part of a nearly hour long interview with the paper's editorial board. Seated in a high-back leather chair while the Gazette-Journal staff pressed him on different policy and political matters, the senator spoke in his customary slow, measured tone. He discussed 'Google for government,' a site he helped create that allows users can search a database of how federal dollars are spent.

"The only way you can control [the out-of-control spending]," Obama said, "is if there is some sense of shame and accountability. The more we increase accountability the more we reduce the special interests in Washington."

He claimed, as he has on the stump, that his health care plan was not "all that different" from his Democratic primary opponents. "All three of us differ fairly significantly with Republicans," said Obama, "who think that you can just provide people with a few more tax credits and somehow that is going to solve the problem."

And he offered stern criticism for the Bush administration, which, he argued, "did not necessarily believe in government as an agent of change." Unlike the president, he stated, "I want to make government cool again."