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. sherry

    I am a registered Democrat and I am not only ashamed but mostly fearfulof the ticket but that is being given a free media ride to the White House!

    It is shocking that people are so insecure that they are willing to turn over the presidency of the United States to a man who has basically only talked his way there.

    Jim Jones was able to do this, and so were a few other scary leaders.

    October 11, 2008 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  2. ME

    Neither Obama nor Lewis shoudl apologise.What he has said is true and in line.If Mccain and Palin stood there and condoned a fellow US senator to be called those names in their rallies..why should lewis apologise.I hope now they have taken note of what their actions can result to.

    October 11, 2008 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  3. Martie

    Like Rep. Lewis, I too am old enough to remember the hate rhetoric of the 1960's – including phrases like "they're not like us" and "can you imagine what life would be like if they got control?" I can also remember what it was like for those of us who refused to buy into the hate. Many whites lost their livelihoods for not buying into that hate; but blacks lost their lives.

    There are many ways to spread hate and mistrust, and Ms. Palin is an expert. Sen. McCain should be ashamed of himself for failing to see a truth so obvious to so many.

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

    Why does the truth have to be repudiated?

    October 11, 2008 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  5. John Jeryy

    Palin should stop comments such as "he does not see america the same way you and I do," "he is palling around with terroists," etc.

    She really has lowered the quality of the conversation

    October 11, 2008 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  6. Sam

    Why didn't Lewis make the same statements when Hillary said basicly the same? Why didn't Lewis defend Hillary? This is just another race card being pulled......

    The sheep will follow................

    October 11, 2008 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  7. Simmy

    Lewis' statements are right on. Lewis is qualified to make his statements-he experienced McCain-type politics first hand. McCain should be apologizing to Sen Obama and this country, for subjecting us to this back to the past kind of politics. McCain has no shame.

    October 11, 2008 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  8. BTHogan

    Wow...you know what, Mr. McCain, you might not have the moral high ground against an American who's got a metal plate in his head because of the beating he received (from a police officer) while non-violently protesting for civil rights.

    October 11, 2008 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  9. Sean

    Although it is sad but he is absolutely right! it is unfortunate that Sen. McCain reached to this low level of integrity.

    October 11, 2008 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  10. Amy For Obama

    I hate to say it, but John Lewis is right!

    People during McCain's rallies have been calling Obama a terrorist, and some went as far as asking to "kill him"!
    McCain and Palin did not reject those statements immediately and of course, if I was a civil rights leader, I would be horrified that after years and decades of hard working, pressing for equal rights and a better vision for our country, that all of a sudden two candidates scared to lose an elections, would close their eyes on such despicable acts. Most importantly, Palin has went too far in her attacks, and even though Mccain has tried to calm it down today, it doesnt take away the fact that his divisive rhetoric will not make this country more united.

    We actually need a leader who would put country ahead of politics, and that is why I support Barack Obama.

    October 11, 2008 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  11. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    I worked in an Arizona Bank during John McCain aka Keating Scandal of Lincoln Savings & Loan which was a terrible loss to it's investors and took years for John McCain to rebuild his image to as "Honorable Senator". That honor which he once had is gone and it's a terrible thing for a man his age to go down in history due to his dishonor and disrespect for all Americans.

    October 11, 2008 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  12. josh

    I guess that everybody missed the part when McCain was trying to calm people down by calling Barry a "honorable man". I don't think that he is stoking racial fires by exposing a relationship that Barry had with a man that declared war on this country. I understand that this was many years ago, but it does not change the fact that it happened. I am leaning towards voting McCain, because I feel that I can believe in what he says.

    October 11, 2008 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  13. Bell

    This kind of stuff is hurting OUR country so badly. The whole world is watching. Do Mccain and Palin think that the rest of the world is made up of just white people? I bet that when Palin returns to Alaska that she won't get the admiration she once enjoyed. This lifelong Republican will be voting Democrat this time thanks to all the lies from Senator McCain. Senator Obama has a plan I can believe in.

    October 11, 2008 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  14. Alana

    I agree with Rep. Lewis. I just want to know why isn't everyone speaking out? We're adults we all know what their intent was. We need to repudiate mccain/palin.

    October 11, 2008 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  15. Brenda

    Mr. Lewis is correct. Palin and McCain have been inciting violence at their rallies. I watched videos where their supporters were shouting threats against Obama without being called down or taken in for questioning by the Secret Service. I'm glad McCain has backed off a tiny bit, but I think his campaign needs to apologize and do more to stop the violence and repair the fractures within our country that they have created.

    October 11, 2008 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  16. Wayne in CA

    so we are back to fake indignation..??

    Lewis has every right to express his concern over the McCain/Palin attacks...he's been there and seen that all before...as have I..

    America need to be reminded that rhetoric can be and has been a slippery slope..

    October 11, 2008 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  17. Erik

    Lewis describes the phenomenon accurately and is understandably alarmed. McCain's desperation is obvious.

    October 11, 2008 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  18. Paul Thompson

    And the anger that I saw was directed to the financial mess,
    not at a race.

    October 11, 2008 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  19. SpareMe

    Spare me! I know plenty of white people that are voting for Obama because they like what he stands for – on the other hand, most black people I know don't have a clue what Obama stands for and are voting solely on his color – if that's not racism plain and clear I don't know what is!!

    October 11, 2008 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  20. Sharon Olds

    Many Americans, not just Lewis, feels the same way. I personally am concerned for Obama's safety now more than ever.

    October 11, 2008 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  21. Lynne Kieper

    Racism is still alive and well in our country; perhaps not as visible as it once was, but still as hateful and still potentially violent. Although McCain did recently try to move the rhetoric and audience responses to a more respectful tone, it came too late. If he was sincere, his campaign would have (and should have) issued a widely publicized statement denouncing disrespectful and hateful remarks. "Kill him, bomb Obama, terrorist and traitor" should never have been allowed to be uttered without an immediate and scathing response from the candidates. There's not a chance that McCain/Palin will win on Nov 4th, but they have successfully stoked the embers of racism which may endanger the lives of Sen Obama and family. Nice work, GOP.

    October 11, 2008 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  22. Janet

    Sadly, the call is a good one. I am deeply saddened by the way this campaign is being run and particularly disappointed that Palin is being allowed to run amok, inciting, defacing and deliberately setting up these attitudes and comments. What she is doing is no different than the person in the theater who shouts fire just to see the stampede. I just pray it doesn't go any further. We need unity, not dividing. Who in their right mind and with the country's best interest, would call out "terrorist"? It frightens me beyond words.

    October 11, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  23. Konstantine Argirakis

    Wow... this is starting to look more and more like a potential landslide for Obama.

    October 11, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  24. Realist

    This proves McShame is truly out of touch! He doesn't even realize what his vicious ads and Palin's sour mouth are doing to create discord in America. I would have gone further by saying that McShame and Falin are not being patriotic!

    October 11, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  25. Ron from Baltimore

    Rep. Lewis had every right to tell the Republican nominees exactly what they reminded him of. The last week was a horrible display of just about everything we love about this country and its grand diversity.

    Sen. McCain, you cry and yelp when someone holds up a mirror. Imagine how Sen. Obama and family feel when your running mate doesn't hold up a mirror but rather shouts in their faces and into the ears of the deranged anglos in her crowd.

    You guys started it; don't expect Obama or anyone else but you to be able to rein it in. If it's not too late.

    October 11, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
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