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. VON BISMARK,Vienna.

    I am not an American but Ijust wounder aloud if in America political campaigns are above the law.Was the 60's era remarkable in American history? The world is watching.

    October 11, 2008 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  2. rhutch

    This is one more indication that John McCain has lost control of his own campaign, the campaign is being run the the far right fringe, which Sarah Palin is their puppet.

    Sarah Palin is the dangerous one on this ticket, she is ruthless, ignorant, unethical, and to top it off is overly ambitious.

    October 11, 2008 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  3. Betty

    Obama – inspires
    McCain – incites

    October 11, 2008 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  4. mick

    The rally footage I saw on CNN was the WI man who said "socialist" and named Pelosi and Reid. I do not understand Lewis' comments as they relate to the civil rights movement. Futhermore, did not some of the angry/support comments come from a African- American man?

    Am I missing some other rally components, if so which ones.

    October 11, 2008 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  5. White Woman in Appalacia

    Obama responds
    Obama spokesman Bill Burton gives little ground to McCain's outraged response at John Lewis's evoking George Wallace:

    Senator Obama does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies.

    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.
    Burton also sent over several comments from Republicans (after the jump), including former top McCain aide John Weaver, expressing discomfort with McCain's and Palin's rhetoric.

    Last time McCain voiced outrage at the suggestion, from Obama himself, that he would use race against the Democrat, Obama quickly backed down. But the terrain has changed, and it seems to be a fight Obama is now comfortable having, perhaps in the hopes of amplifying a backlash against McCain.

    October 11, 2008 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  6. throw-in-the-towel

    I am disgusted about what accusations Lewis is claiming upon McCain. It is typical of Lewis. Consider the source. Can't we ever get past this Lewis. Give it up already!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 11, 2008 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  7. al/Alabama

    Lewis is not a spokeman for Obama. Consequently, he has the right to voice his own opinions. I don't see McCain apologizing for Palin, who speaks on his behalf.

    Palin should be removed from the ticket. She has single handedly put us back in the 60's.

    October 11, 2008 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  8. suzie

    Lewis is right.

    October 11, 2008 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  9. Garth

    As a Canadian, who has been following the US elections, I am appalled at the resurgence of rascism that has surfaced at the Republican rallies. Senator Palin has shown the world what an un- worthy, lying and disgraceful, power-hungry moron she is. I feel sorry for the Amercian public should the Republicans win this election. This is absolutely shameful.

    October 11, 2008 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  10. Something's Fishy...

    Lewis is right- you reap what you sow McCain...you and Palin have whipped up a biased fury with racially tinged speeches and insinuations. Now that you can't control it you are trying to blame Obama and his supporters.

    Barack is right...I'm not looking for a present to divide us...I am looking for a president to lead us.

    The way you have tacked back and forth...evenb this week, proves you are unfit to lead us.

    October 11, 2008 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  11. DDWD

    Mr. McCain-
    you should be ashamed of yourself.
    you are not a man of honor.
    you are weak in your approach.
    you first sign of weakness was selecting Sarah Palin as your running mate.
    both you and Sarah Palin are encouraging hate and destruction.

    we are a peaceful people, we believe
    that all people are created equal, we believe in self respect, we believe
    in peace.

    you sir dwell in a cesspool of lies, hate, dishonor and disappointment . more importantly you and your vp pick call forth that same attitude in the minds of the people that support you.

    do you see where you stand and who stands with you? do you see what you have created? do you take responsibility for your choices? are you proud of what you've done?

    your wife should be so lucky to stand next to, much less in the shoes, of a man that has not only proven his worth but his honor in
    being a leader. if she above all people should be in support of you
    acting and treating your opponent with respect. there is more to being a wife much less a first lady than hosting tea party and redecorating the White House. Mrs. McCain- help your husband your husband out here!

    everything you touch and say turns to hate. that is what you and Sarah Palin stand for- you are hate mongers.

    search your soul Mr. McCain & Mrs. Palin (what is left of them) ask
    yourself if you have enough left in you to buy it back...or have you gone to far.
    John McCain you should not only apologizing to Mr. Obama -you should vote for him. He is exactly all that you wish you could be!

    October 11, 2008 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  12. caligirl58

    What is wrong with you people? If Obama were white you wouldn't hear remarks made like this from Lewis. McCain/Palin are only telling it like it is!! And you call it racism? O brother!

    October 11, 2008 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  13. Candice - TN

    Obama should NOT repudiate anything! McCain looks like an apple in a sea of oranges at these rallies, you can tell he know's this hatred and division is wrong, but stopping the comments may lose him some votes. HOW PATHETIC!

    Barack Obama is a human being for Christ's sake! Are you so upset and afraid that he is simply better than you that you would condone someone pledging to take his life.

    If you truly love America as you say you will, you will want what is best for it, a president who has the judgement, the humility to ask when he doesn't know, the intelligence to solve economic crises, and the moral character to lead the land.

    Please people be responsible people. Look past color for once in your lives. WE ARE ALL HUMAN BEINGS!!!

    OBAMA/BIDEN 2008

    October 11, 2008 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  14. S. Boatman

    Next Week Mccain Will Come Out With A Klan Suit On And Start Chanting White Power!

    October 11, 2008 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  15. JforObama

    To Tim who said: "Right, angry white people are not acceptable today. Angry black people are always welcome at Obama's church".

    First of all Tim, Rev. Wright's church had nothing to do with politics – the media made it a political circus. Nowhere in any of Rev. Wright's sermons did we hear him saying – Kill, Kill – off with their heads. Obama has rebuked Rev. Wright's comments – so let's move on.

    We are talking about racist and hatred being discussed in political rallies – FOR PRESIDENT.

    Finally, you just compared the rallies to Jeremiah Wright – so then you are saying that what they were doing is no different than Jeremiah Wright's church. Then it is bad in your opinion? Therefore, Rep. Lewis was right in his comments – he rebuked McCain/Palin for not stopping this hate. THANK YOU REP. LEWIS

    Obama for President 2008

    October 11, 2008 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  16. Micheal

    I'm watching the presidential race from the UK and I try to keep up with all the cable and national news channels in the US... I always knew America had an under-belly but I thought the country was ready to turn a page on the past and looking forward to the future for all Americans.

    When I listen to Palin, I see a young woman being profusely lead by a political machine she does not fully understand, she's a puppet for the McCain campaign and should be held equally accountable for her grave mis-judgement. McCain as gone through a series of bad calls throughout is campaign, he as struggled to get his message of change across to the American people and has he flounders and his numbers in the poll falls, he clutches by his finger tips and resorts to dividing a nation as his ambition looks more and more like a pipe dream...

    Lewis is candid is remarks and I totally agree with his view point... So here's the question as McCain looks for a way out of this storm he has brewed, should Obama come to his aid and help him diffuse this detonator?.. NO!... McCain as brewed it, let him drink it!..

    October 11, 2008 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  17. Flex

    This is exactly what McCain and Palin wanted!

    October 11, 2008 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  18. Donna

    I am Caucasian. I am also Jewish. The McCain/Palin rhetoric and the response from many of their supporters is terrifying. They have deliberately painted Senator Obama as an outsider, as radical, as someone who "pals around" with terrorists. The mob mentality that they have generated is terrifying to me because it is so close to the mentality that Hitler generated and that resulted in the deaths of millions of Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals. I applaud John Lewis for speaking the truth. McCain and Palin should be ashamed of themselves for pandering to the ugliest and most base elements that unfortunately still exist in this society.

    October 11, 2008 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  19. Republicans hate America

    Farakan and Wright are not running for President McCain and Palin are.

    October 11, 2008 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  20. REDNECKS LOVE OBAMA

    Thank you John Lewis for speaking out.... Thank you Republicans who have spoken out also.... we NEED the good people of America to speak out and stop this HATE SPEECH. We have to be UNITED to deal with this FINANCIAL CRISIS........ P-L-E-A-S-E-

    October 11, 2008 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  21. you're repudiating wrong person john!

    where have you been

    when your "supporters" have been throwing rubbish of hatred

    at senator obama right under your nose?

    what nerve...

    we the people may not be geniuses but

    we aren't that stupid!

    October 11, 2008 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  22. suzyku

    Why should Obama repudiate the truth! McCain and Palin are holding kkk rallies, appealing to the lowest element, they are feeding off this trash that they spew, in particular palin! The are inciting people to violence, they are on a slippery slope and a few semi nice words from mccain, only because it's hurting him politically, doesn't change what they've done and what she continues to do! They are both dishonorable!

    October 11, 2008 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  23. Lee

    I think McCain is running a hate talk racist campaign...stick to the economy and issues people care about. Palin is a waste of time and energy with a foul mouth.

    October 11, 2008 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  24. donna

    if you watched Palin give her speech when McCain named her as a running mate you knew she was full of herself and hate. Obama 08.

    October 11, 2008 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  25. So Cal Gal

    Obama can't repudiate the truth. It's about time someone has the courage to call McCain and Palin out for what they are doing.

    October 11, 2008 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
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