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. Patrick, Fairfield, CA

    Obama does not need to smite the comments of John Lewis – McCain is the one who allowed this type of behavior to come to light. Sarah Palin began it a week ago and McCain followed throughout this past week. But Obama will probably urge all leaders, black and white, Democrats and Republicans to put an end to all the separatist behavior as it has much to do about nothing but hatred. Obama will once again show that he is above disunity and petty politics and bring everyone together. That's what a president should do.

    October 11, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  2. Dawn T. Ada, Ohio

    If Obama repudiates theses statements I will be very angry, because he is right on the Money. McCain/Palin has created this atmosphere along with their friends Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, Savage and Lavin. They are just stoking the racial embers and know what will happen. They are hoping to get all of the racists out to vote, but what they don't understand is that we, who support Obama, will be out in Full Force on election day!!! We are more than ready for change.

    October 11, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  3. jwn in south carolina

    You reap what you sow and McCain/Palin have been sowing the seeds of hatred and now they have been called on it!

    You cannot sling manure without getting some on yourself. Palin is covered it in. McCain not far behind.

    I admire John Lewis!!

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

    George Wallace – DEMOCRAT

    October 11, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  5. zc from Washington

    It is ridiculous for McCain to call for an apology. He has not once apologized for many hateful things his surrogates have said, not to mention his own VP candidate and for that matter himself.

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

    I think McCain/Palin have repelled more voters than attracting, you can't start stirring anger and racism codes in the campaign and expect good people to follow you. There are some people wanted to vote McCain for his experience etc, but they will afraid to be seen in the tank of McCain hatred. Please stop this, start talikng about issues that matters to peoples' lives rather than running an aoutrageous campaign.

    October 11, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  7. Barney Rubble

    Osama is going to lead this country to the gates of hell...err I mean Obama...my bad
    Wake Up America...before it's too late!

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

    well, every other idiot will make this called for crack,
    here goes:

    Beyond the pale, perhaps, not beyond the Palin

    yours for the obvious

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

    Mcain and Plain should just concedde defeat because they spread hate and racism all the time in the campaign.

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

    The secret service was in the audience when the woman said Obama was ARAB and that is the only reason McCain smack her down.

    October 11, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  11. McCain is erratic

    The truth hurts.

    October 11, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  12. NH Voter

    John you opened up this can of worms by unleashing Palin the Sick Puppy!
    Allowing her to preach hate from the pulpit!
    Now you expect Obama to clena up your mess!
    It has nothing to do with Obama!
    Clean up your own mess!

    October 11, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  13. Hillary Supporter

    Mc CAIN and Palin are the modern day HITLERS , because they are BREWING A HATEFUL AND VIOLENT ENVIRONMENT. I am very sad because Mc Cain has DISGRACED his POW status in order to GET VOTES. HOW SHAMEFUL.

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

    Looks like john mc cain't (oop's mc cain) and falin, (oop's palin) can dish it out but can't take it. mc cain you have made a mockery of every thing you said you stood for. you and your lying bunch need to pack it in and ride off into the sunset. you have even gone so far as to hire a bunch of lobbist for your transition team.your whole campaign is a total lie, you have no agenda except to lie your way into the presidency. alaska should impeach PALIN now.either get straight with the people and stop this crap and your lying, or quit. you sir have no HONOR.

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

    I agree 100%. With Lewis.
    If for one very brief deluded moment I considered voting for John McCain, his selection of VP took care of that. By that I mean Palin, her husband and the people they pandering to.

    October 11, 2008 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  16. Are you blind?

    Oh..but I thought it was only the REPUBLICANS spewing hatred. The facts about this whole charade is that Obama STOLE the primary from Hillary Clinton, thus sparking anger and dissention within the party. It has since spilled over into the General Election because Obama has such a checkered past yet he continues to sway the people. It's disconcerting at best. I feel like I'm watching the invasion of Aliens. It's like seeing my fellow humans being turned into Obamabots and the number of regular, sensible humans are dwindling. It's downright scarey and causing fear and hatred amongst the normal people who are left wondering how this epidemic started and most of all, how it can be stopped. I guess us regular, blue collar americans will just have to cling to our guns and religion and pray. Pray that this socialist cultism is revealed for what it is and people come to their senses again before we lose our country and our way of life.

    October 11, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  17. Jim O

    Lewis has it right! You cannot keep labeling directly or indirectly Senator Obama as a terrorists. You cannot allow someone from the crowd shout "kill him!" after just called Obama a terrorists. You cannot allow Sarah Palin to go off suggesting Obama is strange, a man we don't know...and you can't allow people who introduce you to continue to use Senator Obam's middle name.
    It is clear to me that McCain and Palin want to pain Obama as strange, and in the background is the fact that "Well you know his father was from Kenya...and he went to Jeremiah Wright's church...
    etc.." What is behind this is a play to the white folk of America. Bill and Hillary Clinton tried it and it didnt work!
    By the way all you Palin Pals check out her pastor's background and Todd's involvement, as well as her own in a radical right wing group/
    So let's praise John Lewis and Senator Obama ,please do not rebuke him..he is speaking the truth...

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

    What was shocking and beyond the pale? All the guy said was the truth - McCain and Palin's rallies have been fostering an atmosphere of hate. Yeah, sure, McCain asked people to be respectful recently, but only after they had purposely incited the hateful atmosphere to stir up the gutters in the American south so all the white trash is flushed out to the polls on November 4th.

    October 11, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  19. Michelle B.

    John McCain,

    8 years ago, I was willing to cross sides and vote for you because I believed you had integrity. What has changed in the past 8 years? You pick a candidate whose only qualifications seems to be that she's a woman. You send her to rallies not talking about the issues but bringing up tenuous relationships between Senator Obama and a "domestic terrorist," making it sound like they're on each other's #1 cell phone list. People across the nation are seeing you and your running mate churn the waters with hate, racism and fear and you have the audacity to cry "Unfair" because Rep. Lewis compares you to George Wallace?

    Shame on you, Senator McCain. You have made this election a travesty. We need harmony and healing, not hate and fear. I'm definitely making sure you do not govern our people by voting for Senator Obama.

    October 11, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  20. undecided voter

    Ladies and Gentlemen:
    We continue to miss the real issues here. Who said what!! Who truly cares. We are getting distracted here. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Sen. McCain, nothing against Obama other than he has not been completely truthful about his past. And I simply cannot trust someone who has not been truthful and wants to lead this country? Obama everyone, and please be honest with yourselves, whether white, black, brown...Obama LACKS a lot of experience and leadership!! Please just look at the big picture!! He could perhaps be ready when he has real credentials. HE NEEDS TO PAY HIS DUES!! HE HASN'T! SEN. McCAIN HAS!! PLEASE JUST TAKE A LOOK AT HISTORY. I CANNOT TRUST OBAMA!!! NOTHING TO BASE MY TRUST ON!!
    GO SEN. McCAIN / GOV. PALIN 2008!!!
    Obama / Biden 2012 or 2016

    October 11, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  21. Race is an Issue

    Pouring oil on fire. That`s all the republican ticket has been doing lately. It`s so pathetic to see how a candidate`s middle name can become a political flaw. Even Obama`s name has been twisted into «Osama» on some ballots in New York. How low can this nonsense go? Some folks even refer to the Democrat presidential candidate as a «foreigner». Is this hapening in 08? Repugnant is the correct word to qualify the current situation. Just imagine our future with McCain as president. Think about that on November 4th. Now who`s scarier?

    October 11, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  22. ruth

    Sen. McCain and Palin are unbelievable! Rep. Lewis didn't say anything that the news media and the public aren't already saying themselves!

    McCain has lost his status as Hero in our country and I think that's bothering him more than losing the race for Presidency. What a shame. And...he did it to himself.

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

    I Agree McCain and Palin Were Loving It!

    October 11, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  24. Roni Ball

    I agree with Senator Lewis and I am so glad that someone in public office finally had the backbone to chastise John McCain. I think that the campaign that he and Palin are running is deplorable and that they have both proved themselves unfit to hold public office. McCain's recent campaign events have seemed more like klan rallies or lynch mobs. The fact that he can just stand there and listen to death threats against another U.S. senator is simply unbelievable. I condem McCain and pray that he never sees the inside of the white house. He is not a hero, he has proven himself to be a hatemonger.

    October 11, 2008 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  25. SunshineBoy

    McCain and his sidekick have enough apologizing to do for everyone. If McCain were the patriot he purports to be and his partner such a "Woman of God", they have to start acting the parts. First, at the next event, have those loud-mouthed individuals come to the stage. Next, ask security or the closest available sheriff in uniform arrest them for inciting violence. Third, stop the entire event and make his followers understand the rules of campaign etiquette (if there can be in the era of Karl Rove)...that is disagreements...ok....threats of death, racism, etc...off the table. Now is the time for McCain to either show his stuff as a would-be statesman or place himself in the line of those who are Republicans first...Americans second!

    October 11, 2008 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
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