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. Marie

    I believe that it is McCain and Palin who need to apologize. Lewis speaks the truth. Palin especially has been out to incite the GOP base, and based on the comments spewed by the ignorant people at her rallies, it has worked. Now mcCain has seen how hateful his supporters are getting and is trying to tone it down....but blaming it on an Obama supporter? What else should we expect from such a dishonorable campain as McCain's.

    October 11, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  2. Ricky

    I was born & raised in Alabama, growing up during the George Wallace adminstrations. I have seen first hand what words can bring out in people, anger, hatred, total disregard of the law and ignorance just to name a few.
    Belive me, I don't think any decent person in this country wants to re-live those backward years. Sadly I believe we are on the brink of it, I only hope that it has not reached the point where the damage cannot be repaired.
    America and the people are better than this nonsense.

    October 11, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  3. LaRay Newport News, VA

    Barack Obama should absolutely NOT apologize for something John Lewis said. First of all Lewis was absolutely right. Secondly, Obama cannot apologize for every statement that J McCain does not like. He should take responsibility for what he is doing and tone it down and shut the ethically/intellectually challenged VP nominee up! They are inciting hate everywhere they go. Cindy needs to STHU too. Lewis is not the first one to speak to the thought of violence occurring with the way things are going, so they need to step back and really think about what they (McPalin) are doing.

    October 11, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  4. G-Man

    While using Wallace as an example was like touching a raw nerve, I complete agree with Rep. Lewis.

    Rob – Your analogy does not count. Farrankan, et al do not burn white people to a cross while wearing a hood.

    Peter – This is not "pulling the race card" McCain and Palin started it. McCain did the right thing yesterday by telling one person to cool it. But, he and Sarah have let their supporters get away with far too much at their rallys. And, those loose cannons are following the principle of doing what you know is wrong and then asking forgiveness.

    Obama/Biden '08!

    October 11, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  5. Laura, Boston

    I'm backing Obama/Biden and I'm sorry comparing John McCain to George Wallace is a total stetch. John McCain and Sarah Palin have not encouraged people to be jerks, they do it all on their own.

    Us Obama supporters did it against Hillary and nothing was said. When former President Clinton called this whole thing a "fairy tale" he was branded a racist.

    How about the fact that the AA community by 90% to 10% plan on voting for Obama simply because he is Black. Whether you all realize that or not, that is racism in reverse. Should a prominent republican compare Obama to some phathom of the past?

    How about both sides grow up and act like responsible adults? We will elect the next POTUS in just 25 days and whomever wins will be better than George Bush. That should give everybody some piece of mind.

    I am hopeful it will be Obama so the bloggers need to lighten up a bit.

    October 11, 2008 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  6. MBFLA

    John Lewis is correct and Barack Obama better not repudiate him for telling the truth! McCain and Palin are fanning the flames of hatred and divisiveness with all intention in this country and it is evil!

    No apology unless it's from McCain and Palin!

    October 11, 2008 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  7. Bulldog

    John McCain wants to talk about attacking character???? McCain has been using Palin to lie about Barack Obama for weeks now regarding his character, just like the false Muslim emails, swearing in on the Koran and all of those other disgusting lies. John McCain wants Obama to repudiate the truth??? McCain and Palin are stirring up hatred and division without question. Palin is out there saying to connect the dots. What dots? She is trying to make small attack after attack lies so at the end people will put them all together and believe the big lie after they connect all of her lies together. Disgusting.

    October 11, 2008 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  8. Yet another Republican supporting Obama!

    McCain fueled the fire by creating hate against Obama in his rallies. He fed the crowds this anger and his supporters fed on it. Obama does not need to dispute Lewis' comments. It is the truth and McCain should be ashamed of himself. The great Maya Angelou once said, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."

    October 11, 2008 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  9. Abby

    When can we send Moose back to Alaska and Squirrel back to Arizona? Not soon enough!

    October 11, 2008 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  10. no joe 6pak

    What we now have is a candidate whose mental records are
    permanently sealed and who now has the magnum backing
    of the NRA. Serious medicine.

    October 11, 2008 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  11. Sue

    Outraged John? You should be outraged at the comments by your Barbie Doll running mate and the rest of the lies that you have put in your ads. Smiley face shakes her head in agreement with herself when she talks about Obama and Ayes-but never once comes up with a workable solution to any of the problems facing people who make less than 250K (and don't have a private plan, or 9 homes or 13 cars). Wake up-you are losing and your rhetoric is way too old. Wonder why you are not using the line that W likes so much--"that it will come in the form of a mushroom cloud." Why not use that comment to incite your followers. Any Republican who has any sense of decency should decry what these two candidates have been doing lately----but they don't. Are you surprised? But they are probably outraged at Rep. Lewis' comments--my suggestion to Rep. Lewis-'KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK AND SPREAD THE WORD."

    October 11, 2008 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    Thank you, Rep. Lewis, for stepping in. God Bless u

    October 11, 2008 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  13. Julia

    McCain needs to keep backing his crowds down – which he has begun to do – from the hatred and rage. When he gets them down to the level of reason, gets them back from "terrorist," "kill him," etc, THEN Obama can distance himself from what Lewis said. No repudiation until then. Must McCain be shamed into running the decent campaign he promised?

    October 11, 2008 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  14. Paula

    I have turned down the volume and watched Palins facial expressions and body language. She is working the bigots in the crowd to a frenzy with McCains consent. Also have watched her kiss that poor baby then look at the audience to gauge their reaction. Her poor pregnant daughter looks like she is barely hanging in there. Palin is the worst example of a Christian I have seen.
    We all know bigotry is alive and well-I am a white person in N.C. and see it everyday!!

    October 11, 2008 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  15. Republican voting Democrat 2008

    Amazing. I am still trying to get over McCain's response to John Lewis' remarks...AND even asking Obama to repudiate those comments. My mind is soo baffled. I am so ashamed to be called a christian right now. T

    There is nothing christlike about the actions of these so-called christian republicans who feel that their morals are the abosulute way to go in a society. They are all a bunch of hyprocites whose hearts need a good dose of cleansing. Their hearts are evil..and the scary thing is, they are not seeing their condition! They bask in blood thirsty rhetoric and shout similar sentiments in response "Off with this head", Kill him' ...it amazes me. THis is a sad day America..but it is a wonderful day come November 4th when I place my vote for Obama..I may even get in a an early vote..and hoping against hope they do not screw it up!

    Can't belive this crap from John McCain..still can't believe it..Take a look in the mirror John...I call on Palin to repudiate her supporters comments....Just because you did it once..and I notice you never chided the woman for calling him ARAB (such nonesense), you only said he was a decent man..Why coudn't you say he HE IS NOT ARAB....you feel you have done your duty..come again John McCain..

    October 11, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  16. Kerry

    Honestly, Rep. Lewis was an up close and personal witness to the events he is comparing to...I think he is fairly qualified to speak his opinion. As a black man, hearing people say things like "kill him" and "sit down boy" only confirm what I knew to still be in existence today. As individuals who seek to move forward and restore our country to its former glory, let us as supporters of Barack take a page from his book. In the face of personal attacks, vitriol and uneducated outbursts, let us not "fight back". Rather, let us stand strong, facing forward and preparing for what is to come. There is a reason many say Obama "looks Presidential"...

    October 11, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  17. Judy from NC

    Rob – We aren't talking about Farrakhan and Wright because they aren't running for President. Get a clue!

    October 11, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  18. Rick

    Did anyone forget Mr. Obama's opponent John Sidney MCcain voted against the Martin Luther King Holiday. The current republican ticket is scared of progress. And that is what it will mean if Barack gets into office. This goes for the people screaming sick comments at the rallies also. I am also concerned that the militia boys in the hill are sick enough to carry out the comments.

    October 11, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  19. My Common SenseActually Works

    As the election comes to an end, America's reputation is in a balance and hopefully will not wind down in flames. The negativity and irresponsible words that McCain/Palin and the RNC campaign played with emotions and prejudice of people specially the elderly. I still believe America is the land of the free. However, this past weeks, we have shown the world how even on the 21st century, we are still trapped in the world of stereotyping and prejudice. We are our worst enemy. We have come so far and have risen from the past periods of pain and shame for every American. Is the White house and presidency worth a single drop of blood our forefathers has fought for every American?? Hate and greed gnaws on us, and if it can, they eat us alive. SAD!! Very sad!!

    October 11, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  20. John

    Commenting here is all fine and good, but we must not forget the essential task still left to us as citizens: We must vote. If Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden are to have the opportunity to lead this nation out of the current crisis and through the crises yet to come, we must make sure they are elected. The polls look great right now, but the poll that counts is on November 4. We must turn out in such numbers that no chicanery at the polling places will invalidate the result. And we must make it clear that the majority of people want a new direction for this country and a new direction for future elections. If this team gets a chance, I believe that most, except for the extremists, will be gratified by the chance.

    For those who disagree, let them also make their voices heard in the one way that is acceptable in American society – vote.

    And may the best choice win.

    October 11, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  21. T

    No way, no how, no repudiation of Lewis's comments!
    Palin and McCain are a true disgrace and the fact that their voting block is full of rednecks and KKK members should make all Republicans think twice about their vote.
    If you vote for McCain and Palin, you will be joined by Bush, Cheney, rednecks, KKK members and people who think Palin and McCain actually have something to offer....
    I thought Bush was bad, I had no clue it could actually be worse!

    October 11, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  22. Lou

    Reading these emails and see the support of my views makes me very happy. McCain and his crew want to dish it out and can't take it. My respect to McCain has totally dimished because of his behavior. They know thier behavior is totally overboard. Swift boat politics continue. the only difference Bush had other people sending the message.

    October 11, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  23. Alonso

    Thaaaannk Yoooou John!!! To reiterate others' sentiments, someone needed to say this...loud and clear! Hopefully, the "New Three Stooges Show: Sarah, Cindy, & John" will come to an end on 11/4......

    October 11, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  24. Liz

    Why should Lewis's comments be refuted, they are 100% correct! McPalin have been attacking Obama's "character" every single day, and now when someone holds their attacks up to the light they dare to make such a challenge?

    They are flouting ignorance and invoking hatred, they should be called out for it.

    October 11, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  25. JP

    McCain and all his religous supporters should have discerned falsly attacking a person's character is wrong! You will reap what you have sowed.

    October 11, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
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