October 11th, 2008
05:20 PM ET
6 years ago

McCain calls on Obama to repudiate 'shocking' Lewis comments

Lewis and McCain traded tough statements Saturday.
Lewis and McCain traded tough statements Saturday.

(CNN) - John McCain – who has often praised civil rights icon John Lewis – called a statement by the Georgia congressman Saturday comparing the outbursts at recent Republican rallies to the rhetoric of segregationist George Wallace “a brazen and baseless attack” that is “shocking and beyond the pale.”

Lewis issued his statement after several days of headline-grabbing anger directed at Democratic nominee Barack Obama by some attendees at McCain campaign rallies.

"What I am seeing reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Sen. McCain and Gov. [Sarah] Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse," Lewis said in a statement.

Watch: McCain defends Obama at campaign event

"George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama," wrote the Democrat.

McCain has written about Lewis, praising his actions at Selma during the civil rights movement. The Republican nominee even said during a summer faith forum that Lewis was one of three men he would turn to for counsel as president.

But the Arizona senator blasted the congressman’s remarks, and called on Obama to repudiate them. "Congressman John Lewis' comments represent a character attack against Governor Sarah Palin and me that is shocking and beyond the pale,” he said in a Saturday afternoon statement released by his campaign.

(Updated with Obama camp reaction after the jump)

“The notion that legitimate criticism of Senator Obama's record and positions could be compared to Governor George Wallace, his segregationist policies and the violence he provoked is unacceptable and has no place in this campaign. I am saddened that John Lewis, a man I've always admired, would make such a brazen and baseless attack on my character and the character of the thousands of hardworking Americans who come to our events to cheer for the kind of reform that will put America on the right track.

"I call on Senator Obama to immediately and personally repudiate these outrageous and divisive comments that are so clearly designed to shut down debate 24 days before the election. Our country must return to the important debate about the path forward for America."

McCain himself seemed to be looking to calm frustrated Republicans Friday, telling supporters at a campaign rally that the Democratic nominee was a "good man," and that they had nothing to fear from an Obama presidency.

Update: Obama's campaign said he did not agree with the comparison made by Lewis - but did not repudiate the congressman's remarks.

“Senator Obama does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton. "But John Lewis was right to condemn some of the hateful rhetoric that John McCain himself personally rebuked just last night, as well as the baseless and profoundly irresponsible charges from his own running mate that the Democratic nominee for President of the United States ‘pals around with terrorists.’

"As Barack Obama has said himself, the last thing we need from either party is the kind of angry, divisive rhetoric that tears us apart at a time of crisis when we desperately need to come together. That is the kind of campaign Senator Obama will continue to run in the weeks ahead."


Filed under: John Lewis • John McCain • Popular Posts
soundoff (960 Responses)
  1. JANE

    MCCAIN-PALIN CANDIDATES ARE AT FAULT. THEIR COMMENTS HAVE STIR- UP CROWDS INTO FRENZY. I JUST SAW ON (YOU TUBE) SOME OF THEIR FOLLOWERS AND THEY WERE A DISGRACE TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. SHAME ON THEM! MCCAIN-PALIN YOU STARTED IT BY YOUR ADS; NOW, STOP IT.

    October 11, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    Sen. McCain,
    "Legitimate criticism of Senator Obama's record and positions

    October 11, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  3. Jen

    Thank you Rep. Lewis. I am very upset that my children have to see and hear this kind of fear, hate and race mongering that McCain and Palin are displaying. That style of politics was over a long time ago. If Palin is truly a christian she could not and would not say the words she is saying and invoke the rage and anger. that feeds her ego in her rallies. She is playing devil's advocate and that is something a real christian would not do.

    October 11, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  4. Plutarch2008

    Stop falling back on race and talk about the issues. The American people are sick of race bating by Obama and the big money-race bating remnants of those who have apostasized from Martin Luther King's dream and vision. Since when is attacking a persons position on abortion, same sex marriage or even calling a person by their God given name racist. By the way Joe Biden lied. Barack Obama is for same sex marriage. Further, since when is attacking a canidates position on economics racist. Maybe the AARP should complain because the Obama camp is calling John McCain senile and erratic. Maybe Hilary Clinton should complain because NOW thinks Sara Palin should remain bare foot and pregnant in Alaska. Shame on you John Lewis. Shame on you Democrats. Shame on you Barack Obama. Shame on you America for falling for this garbage.

    October 11, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  5. mercyline

    mccain should start by his own sarah palin remarks on the campaign trail. shame on you john

    October 11, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  6. Stan

    An Obama supporter and hero of the civil rights movement calls out McCain for his racist, hate-and-fear-mongering rallies and Obama is supposed to "repudiate" him?

    When will McCain "repudiate" those "regular people" who screamed "terrorist", "treason", "kill him", and "bomb Obama"?

    My guess is that the "honorable" John McCain never will. He hides behind two women, his wife and running-mate, and lets them deliver the most vile rhetoric. He himself pretends to be reasonable, correcting two rabid supporters at a rally when his negative campaigning hurts him in the polls, but his ads are still 100% negative based on lies and smears and Sarah Palin and the rest of his campaign are still fully on board the new "Hate Talk Express".

    The one good thing? We all knew this was what was really in "christian" conservatives hearts, and now the whole nation gets to see it on display. This is conservatism, exposed for what it truly is – an ideology built on ignorance, fear, and hate.

    October 11, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  7. Adam

    McCain is wrong.....you can't launch a character attack against some one who has no character.

    October 11, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  8. don kraus

    Hey, John! How's it feel? After all the lies and distorted truths and misleading facts and personal attacks on Obama, you and "Moose-Woman" should be the last people in the world to become "outraged"
    by someone else's comments about you. In fact, in this case, the comments are correct. You and Palin keep feeding hatred with your
    mis-truths to your followers. You brought on this storm, now weather it!
    -Don Kraus

    October 11, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  9. Montel

    It is very hard to loose power. It seems Republican machinery will do everything in their power to win.

    SHAME is what would emerge if violence is erupted in this election. It would begin a strugle in this nation that has not been seen or heard.

    We have already fallen short of our leadership in the world, leader ship in technology and leadership in economy. Now this would add a new shameful chapter.

    I guess "DEGRADING VALUES" is the root to our down fall that has been creeping into our society which is pulling us all down. Now it is showing its ugly head for everyone else to see.

    October 11, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  10. dave

    John Lewis's attack is correct, McCain should know that he'c encouragins some pretty destructive behavior in his, and especially Palin's rallies.

    John McCain has got to realize that lately his rallies HAVE resembled some things that Lewis would have experienced.

    October 11, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  11. rossy

    Rep Lewis is correct. Please, Senator Obama don't listen to McCain. Rep Lewis is correct, their campaign has condone hatred among his supporters. Rep Lewis has a lot of wisdom.

    October 11, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  12. Irene

    John Lewis has NOTHING to apologize for..........

    Senator Obama doesn't have to repudiate ANYTHING of what Congressman Lewis has said...........IT IS TRUE.

    Senator McCain and Gov. Palin are the ones who need to STOP the dangerous rhetoric!

    OBAMA / BIDEN 08

    October 11, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  13. voter

    I don't understand how threatening Obama has anything to do with the people in McCain's rally being angry about the economy. Moderate republicans yesturday said the same thing as Lewis. McCain did not ask them to repudiate their comments. get real. McCain's rallies do look like a lynch mob.

    October 11, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  14. Lady_Di

    McCain tried to put the genie back in the bottle and his own supporters booed him. Go figure. You can't just whip people into a frenzy and then act surprised when things start to spiral out of control. It's obvious that he now realizes that his campaign is headed down a dark ugly path, but I don't velieve that he know how to stop it and Palin is on a power trip, she is absolutely loving it.

    How can he be expected to run the country when he can't control his own rally's. Contrast that to the way Obama has handled hecklers at his events.

    October 11, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  15. Bryce in Seattle

    Lewis is right on the money. Shame on McCain.

    October 11, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  16. henriettap

    With the people at the rallies yelling such hateful things as they were last week was like watching a picture from the past ,some of which were very disturbing,it did bring back old and scary thoughts of what we have been trying to overcome.Palin and McCain were fanning the flames of hate so there is no need for an apology from John Lewis.

    October 11, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  17. Chelle in Fla

    McCain have some nerves!! Once again trying to re-direct the conversation from something he started! There is nothing to repudiate when Republicans also said what the McCain team is doing is dangerous, unfortunately playing with this kind of fire we'd all get burned.

    October 11, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  18. Independent Ben

    Once again....The BROWN SHIRTS are sitting at their computers at full force spewing their own mindless hate. You all work for the Obama campaign waiting to attack. Will you be stuffing the ballot boxes too for your messiah?

    October 11, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  19. Hal

    Hey Jhon ...

    this one is man to man . No need to include Barack in this one.

    Why don't you be a man and respond directly and whithout condescension to Lewis whom you once had "high regards for", because it was a politically the safe thing to proclaim, and the razzle dazle you needed to distract from the fact that you voted many times against MLK day and to keep the confederate flag flying high in the deep south.

    C'mon, own up to your strategy of riling up , and taping into the deep pool of blatant bigotry and racims of your supporters. Now you want senator Obama to "repudiate" ... Haha , that would be funny if it wasn't truly nauseating.

    October 11, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  20. MCKEATING5 TOOK $112,000 WHILE IN CONGRESS DURING THE SAVINGS AND LOAN FAILURE, TWO DECADES LATER WE ARE IN A BANKING FAILURE. IS MCKEATING5 “EARNING” PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS? YOU DECIDE.

    A side note and we should not get cocky but the RCP this morning shows "O/B as THAT ONE by 7.1 points.

    The RCP electoral map shows them at 277 electoral votes, RCP is showing PA as safe and VA as leaning for Obama.

    Again do not get cocky, but just savor these facts while we "elitist" have our morning latte's and scones in our ivory towers while gazing upon the serfs toiling in the fields!

    WINK!

    October 11, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  21. Ed Word

    Thank you, John Lewis.

    You are absolutely correct.

    McCain and Palin are on the ropes and they will say or do anything to stir up the gap-toothed knuckle draggers in their base.

    Unfortunately, one of these loosely wrapped followers could think he's doing a country great service by bringing harm to Mr. Obama. I hope I am wrong, but in today's world nothing would surprise me.

    October 11, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  22. Lissa in Montreal

    He's spot on! The sudden defense of Obama by McCain is like trying to unring a chorus of bells McCain's had set off by his attack dog. THEY started this, THEY incited the racial remarks and the politics of personal destruction and they DARE to be outraged?

    You go, Mr. Lewis – you were there, you know what the atmosphere feels, sounds and looks like. And this is wayyyyyy too close for comfort to be overlooked or swept under the rug.

    Proud of your gumption!!

    October 11, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  23. Aretha MS

    After listening to Governor Palin today address the crowd and touch on the issue about abortion and abortion rights i can now see how people get so angr and frustrated with senator Obama. I am an Obama supporter and i feel sorry for John McCain right now, due to the fact that he sent out his attack dog and the response he wanted was not what he's getting, and thats mainly due to the words and the way governor Palin speak at these rallies. I dont know if it's to late but if senator McCain wants to end this campaign with some dignity, he has to put a muzzle on Sarah Palin, and write her speeches from now on!!!! i no longer see her as a person, me being a woman, can relate to!!!! i believe both Obama and McCain's life can be in danger with some of the outraged comments being made during this last week of campaining. it's sad but its time like these I am not proud to be an AMERICAN!!! PEACE IN "08"

    October 11, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  24. Papasan in Arizona

    McCain/Palin are hoplessly in a crash and burn spiral downward. Once again McCain refuses to take responsibility for his actions. Wake up old man!
    You lost the election!

    October 11, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  25. John

    Rob October 11th, 2008 4:08 pm ET

    This issue is so one-sided! Why aren't we talking about the racism and hatred spewed by Farrakhan and Wright. They are just as bad as the KKK

    In case you haven't noticed,neither of those two is on the Democratic ticket.

    October 11, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
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