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

McCain calls on Obama to repudiate 'shocking' Lewis comments

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/11/art.johnlewis.gi.jpg caption="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. David S. Robins

    Congressman Lewis is right on the mark. It is McCain and Palin who have been brazen and beyond the pale in their slanderous and dishonest attacks on Senator Obama's character. The good thing is that these vicious attacks have backfired bigtime and made it certain that McCain/Palin will lose. America will be a better place as a result.

    October 11, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  2. If the shoe fit....

    I used to like and respect John McCain, however, He has traded all of his dignity to win this election and it shows. After all of the character comments he has made about Obama, how dare he call on Obama to denounce something that somebody else said or feel. Shame on you McCain. When are you going to put your country first again?

    October 11, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  3. Joyce

    Throughout this campaign, I'm seeing hatred, racism, prejudice. I laugh when I say the older lady saying at McCain's rally that "Obama is an Arab"....this shows me that a lot of this hatred and racism which was at it's height during the civil war movement is still there and alive in many people's heart. I'm seeing that they are happy to share their racist comments nationally. It is downright a racist campaign from the McCain campaign and it's supporters. Is this a cycle that will happen all over again.....government....depression.......racism....I pray to God that we're not revisiting the racism era all over again. I hope this behavior is halted.....especially from the McCain supporters, because I'm seeing so much hatred....and this is not towards the Democratic party....it's toward Barack Obama as a "black man" who is going to possibly take the "seat of the white man as president of the United States of America." May God be with us all.

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

    Tit-for-tat. However the guy maybe went a little too far in that he used a specific person out of history. At least in this case due to the subject. Because of that it was a direct comparison between two people and not a general comment. Biden kept things generic enough to not cause many waves.

    October 11, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  5. Bert Killian

    "The worst thing you can do is start to believe your own press." Right on Grok; I agree; Barack Obama should quit believing his own hype.

    "I am deeply disappointed that the religious right will continue to support people who are willing to lie and deceive, while bloating up with pride, just because of their views on social issues."

    Since when is the Republican Party the only party that has "religious" people in it? You telling me that MY Democratic Party has no religious people in it? That is a statement borne from an ignorant person. Please don't tell us you really believe that.

    Lewis is exactly right and the only people who deserve repudiation are those in the McCain campaign that are willing to gamble with hatred and fear in an effort to win. It is simply despicable. Hopefully the public is getting a good view of lack of quality in the personal morals of the Republican party.

    Hey Grok:

    Remember, it is only a smear if it is a lie. Obama did pal around with Bill Ayers; a self-proclaimed terrorist. Does that not bother you at all?

    If John McCain and Sarah Palin are "dividing the country" with bringing this up; then divide away John and Sarah. This debate should have been started long ago; oh, but that has been nigh on impossible due to the fact that the left-wing press did not think it important enough to pursue. Makes me wonder what else is brewing that we don't know about regarding Barack Obama. You wondering this also? I hope so.

    Like what has been said many times here today on this post, "You reap what you sow." As long as you know what seeds you sowed.

    October 11, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  6. Barbara CA

    Senator McCain, you are a good man but what has been happening was not good for America. If none of your advisors ever explained to you how those angry crowds looked to the rest of America, then John Lewis has done you a great favor.

    I personally felt that your attack on Barack Obama as a terrorist was actually very insulting to not only the black people in your own party but also Democrats and Independents. This hatred was terrible to look at and I was glad when you took the first step to put a stop to it. But Senator McCain, with these angry emotions going around, if you do not want to be responsible for something even worse than anger happening please listen to Mr. Lewis.

    October 11, 2008 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  7. Dion in Montgomery

    Am I reading this right? McCain and his people must and should get a life! And thats all I have to say about that!

    October 11, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  8. Bobby tray

    Why are people surprised by what is going on at the Palin/McCain rallies? Remember, McCain is from a state that refused to celebrate MLK's birthday. Palin is from a state where a portion wants to leave the US. I see many people like McCain/Palin in my line of work. There is some deep seeded resentment that they and many have against people of color. They are not overt racists, but you will never see them invite someone like Obama; a well educated person of color to their house. They prefer them to be the waiters and the maids at the party and not someone who may actually be smarter than them and give them advice, or lead them as President.

    October 11, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  9. ls

    I agree , Acorn seriously needed to have been investagated along time ago. It should not have been McCain's responsiblity to make Acorn's fradulent practices known to the public. Alot of poll workers saw it in the primaries months ago.

    October 11, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  10. Greg in Mpls

    You were the one who wanted to up the attacks on Obama Senator McCain...this is your doing!

    Why not listen to Lewis and take his words to heart, instead of screaming at the rain for being wet? You brought this on yourself...and I hope no one will want to vote for you come November. I don't even want this to be close...I want you be buried under the weight of your failed ideas and attempts to run this country into the ground.

    October 11, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  11. voting 4 that one!

    Foxnews morons especially Sean hannity along with Mccain are to be blame for bring out these ignorant fools.

    October 11, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  12. Susan

    Lewis is absolutely correct.

    I am disturbed by these events at McCain/Palin events, particularly at Palin's rhetoric.

    October 11, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  13. ghazi

    Here is what McCain himself said in describing the Three Wisest People He Knows when he was interviewed by Pastor Rick Warren. John Lewis, he claimed, was his number two pick:

    " I think John Lewis. John Lewis was at the Edmund Pettis Bridge, had his skull fractured, continued to serve, continues to have the most optimistic outlook about America. He can teach us all a lot about the meaning of courage and commitment to causes greater than our self- interest. "

    October 11, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  14. Pittsburgh

    Thank you, John Lewis.

    October 11, 2008 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  15. Gerri

    Those crowds remind me of a lynch mob when they start yelling "terrorist" and "kill him." Does the Republican party want to be known as a bunch of Racist?
    I had respect for John Mcain when he was running against Bush but he has sold his soul to devil as far as I'm concerned. And his runnihg mate likes inciting the uninformed voters. And I bet they all say they are Christians. Makes me sick

    October 11, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  16. Michigan Independent

    Lewis only said what millions of American's have been thinking and feeling about the McCain/Palin attacks...no apology needed!!

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

    The bible says you reap what you sow. Mc Cain and Sarah Palin need to wake up and start talking about real issues the american people care about. Mr. Ayers is now teaching in one of our schools which means he has been accepted and pardoned. If not then what he has been teaching about to our kids? Terrorism? I don't think so.
    Obama does not need to repudiate any of Rep. Lewis comments which are by the way correct. McCain is the One who needs to stop his divise and shameful tactics.

    October 11, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  18. Gino

    McCain is right here.

    October 11, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  19. Mark in Georgia

    I agree with the comments by John Lewis.

    I also believe that John McCain is a decent person that has allowed his ambition to become President blind him and take advise from the scum that ran the past republician campaigns.

    Palin is a lightweight added to the mix because she can be controled by the right and will be their chaney. I think that they veiw her as their bush if McCain's healths fails. I see that as the far rights real hope in all of this. Get another figure head "leader" in power that they can control just as they have done for almost 8 years now.

    October 11, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  20. Steve - Atlanta, GA

    I use to be a Republican and I am now ashamed of them. Instead of responsible conservatives, they are now presenting themselves as a bunch of ignorant uninformed group of people who will stoop to the lowest levels to get what they want. It is really scary to watch how they are behaving at these rallies. Total white trash!

    October 11, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  21. Shelby

    Well here we go...The O'Bama racist circus is running the freak show of the century.

    This is way worse than what they did to Hillary in the primaries.

    October 11, 2008 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  22. California Gold

    McCain is out of line. Obama doesn't have a dog in that fight. In fact, this is something McCain ought to take directly to John Lewis and work out. Problem is McCain (1) refuses to have direct dialogue with anyone he considers an adversary be it another Congressman or the leader of another country (the latter is a cornerstone of his foreign policy - don't talk to "them") and (2) McCain would rather prostitute the negative press his campaign has earned (deservedly so) with his hate rallies and try to drag an innocent bystander (Obama) in the mud.

    In the eyes of the voter, McCain has completely spent what little credibility he had left and committed character suicide.

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

    John Lewis is a man who has been tortured far longer than John McCain. What right does McCain have to tell him what to do or say?

    I am a white veteran and a strong Obama supporter. I think that McCain's behavior, Palin's behavior, and their supporter's behavior has been disgraceful. I could not agree with Lewis' words more.

    The Supreme Court has spoken on this issue. The freedom of speech is protected up to the point where it becomes inciting violence. McCain, Palin and Fox News are pretty close to that point. They have all earned this rebuke, and many others.

    Where are you many others? Condemn this hateful approach!

    October 11, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  24. John

    Hey mcCain, at least this one is true, you and palin are scum.

    October 11, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  25. Mindfire

    Rob - not that I condone hate speech in any form but let's not kid ourselves 'lest' we're just ignorant. There is a difference between Rev Wright / Farrakhan vs. the K.K.K....While the Radical ministers speak from a position of being victimized and lashing out...the KKK has actually raped, tortured, murdered and terrorized innocent men, women, and children. There is no fair comparision my friend...now send that one to Rush and Hannity they seem to "just don't get it.."

    October 11, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
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