October 11th, 2008
05:20 PM ET
12 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. former republican for OBAMA

    Is he serious!!!!

    October 11, 2008 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  2. As the 'Pain Turns

    You reap what you sow... Cong. Lewis knows what he speaks of.

    October 11, 2008 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  3. dustin

    If mccain wants obama to start apologizing for his supporters comments, then mccain will have to start apologizing for his, and in that case he'd be apologizing until election day. Although i agree with lewis about mccains supporters, they're yelling out "terrorist" and "kill him", pretty insane.

    October 11, 2008 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  4. k williams

    tell the truth mr lewis. mcpalin is no hero in my book. he's stroking the fire of racism, but this time he may be on the wrong side of this issue. the republican's are nothing but thugs and evil racists.

    October 11, 2008 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  5. Abby from Florida

    Rep. Lewis is correct. The JSM and Palin rallies have been a disgrace. I felt ashamed to call myself American seeing these people behave like a bunch of backwood rednecks. McCain must own all the hate and vitriol and his stupid running mate seem to incite at these rallies.

    October 11, 2008 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  6. Not4MoreYears

    Way to go Lewis. It's high time somebody called McCain and Palin on this inflammatory rhetoric. This cannot stand.

    October 11, 2008 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  7. Not a fan of the 'Cuda

    You reap what you sow, John-Boy. "Who is Barack Obama?" is not an innocent question and you know it. Palin claiming Obama's for "unlimited abortion" and "pals around with terrorists" and "doesn't see America like you and me" aren't innocent stateements. They go to the core of racial divisiveness and making the opposition the "other" in some new culture war. You don't want civil rights leaders to call you a race-baiter? Stop race-baiting. Really simple.

    October 11, 2008 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  8. SomebodyHandJohnSomeGinko

    It is what it is!

    October 11, 2008 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  9. Bryan

    Lewis is right. McCain and Palin have been inciting fear and hatred all week. McCain thankfully toned it down at his rallies, but the ads and surrogate talk continues with his campaign's blessing. He says that Lewis' comments were divisive? What about the nonsense the McCain campaign has been peddling? Obama doesn't need to repudiate anything. McCain should be ashamed of himself.

    October 11, 2008 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  10. Richard Neffson

    McCain does not get it. John Lewis was talking about the rhetoric from both McCain and Palin that was causing his crowds to yell out, "Kill him." "Off with his head." "Terrorist." John Lewis nor Senator Obama have nothing to apologize for.

    Obama/Biden 08

    October 11, 2008 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  11. Leon

    He is correct. McCain and especially Palin is sowing the seads of hatred in our country. Palin needs to shut up and answer to why she abused her power as governer. Shame on you two.

    October 11, 2008 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  12. kewl breeze

    look folks .. this entire campaign is over the top .... to link john mc cain with george wallace and thereby to the bombing that took the lives of four of our children ..please enough is enough

    October 11, 2008 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  13. G Ray

    McCain can do something to improve his stature greatly by
    issuing the following statament:

    "If the only reason you are voting for me is because my opponent
    is a black, then I do NOT want your vote."

    October 11, 2008 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  14. Ann

    I don't see any wrong doing here. McCain needs to shut the hell up.

    his rallies are anti Americans, and he needs to stop that.

    Obama apologizing for this means that what MCain is doing on the trail is apraisable

    Lets talk about Palin and the trooper or the Economy

    October 11, 2008 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  15. jinci

    Is McCain that senile? You stoke hate and then try to double-down when called out on it! This is mind-blowing.

    October 11, 2008 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  16. Baleful

    I have written my Republican State Senator , John Sununu, asking him to come out publicly against the tone of the McCain campaign. I urge all other citizens who are disturbed by the not-terribly-hidden code words of racist/hate language evident in the McCain/Palin campaign to do the same.

    It is our right and duty as Americans to stop this tone.

    October 11, 2008 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  17. Chris

    I don't think that Obama should repudiate those statements, I agree 100% with them. McCain and Palin are running the most disrespectful, hateful, and false campaign in history. It is time for people to realize that they are in a desperate position, and will do or say anything to win the election.

    October 11, 2008 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  18. John in Gig Harbor

    The truth hurts, doesn't it John...

    October 11, 2008 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  19. Lauren

    McCain/Palin had this coming. Sorry. But it's true.

    October 11, 2008 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  20. Waiting for Sen Obama's Inaugural

    Hey John,

    I guess you don't ever watch the news. You are missing the part where you and Sarah are running the ugliest campaign in US Presidential Politics.
    But after reading Rolling Stones, Make-Believe Maverick, the only person you are trying to impress is you.
    John you were born to be a leader. Your Grandfather and father, may the rest peace, must be rolling over in their graves.
    You have done nothing but disgrace their names. Shame.


    October 11, 2008 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  21. a well educated woman

    I do agree with Mr. Lewis. None of the hatred attacks being spewed at McCain and Palin town halls is called for. Anyone who calls themselves American and clealy shouts hate should crawl back under the hole they came from. But even worse we have 2 people who want to run this country amd are letting these evil do'ers get away with it. It is fully the fault of McCain and Pailn for any of this to continue. No one has any right to shout out "Terrorist" or "Kill him!". Those people should have been detained and hauled off to jail.

    October 11, 2008 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  22. btodd

    John McCain....still afraid of the truth

    October 11, 2008 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  23. Pun Nio

    McCain take responsibility.

    October 11, 2008 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  24. NC

    It's obvious that racism is alive and well in America; however what's not so obvious to some is that it comes from the other side much more often than anyone will admit.

    October 11, 2008 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  25. marverl!

    It's time that for people to stand up and tell the true about this kind of nasty politics. Mr. Lewis is right on the money

    October 11, 2008 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
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