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. Hurt2008

    I can understand why. Here it goes. I first would like to thank Senator Obama for a couple things I have learned in this election season. The first one is that I finally have a better understanding why Obama does not like China or the Chinese regime. The reason is simple. That is in the past two decades or so China has tried its best to do away with its 50-year failed socialist policy and in the meanwhile has embraced as much capitalism as possible. The 50-year failed policy almost brought that country next to nothing and only the recent embracement of capitalism has allowed China to be able to get up on its feet. Unfortunately, Obama just wants to do the opposite the Chinese have been through by advocating additional radical socialist programs. We all know that the current entitlement program is a time bomb that has been said to be even more powerful than the current financial crisis. No doubt, adding socialized health care to it is sure to add fuel to that ticking bomb that will guarantee to eat you, me, and our kids up alive by destroying the future all together. In addition, have you heard about that some evacuees from the last hurricane in New Orleans have complained about not being evacuated to cruise ships?! Wake up! We are a loving nation and the young, the weak, and those able bodies (including students) who are willing to work or go to school and yet can’t afford insurance must be helped as McCain has said all along, but handing out free insurance (a right???!!!) to everyone is outrageous!! We Americans are smart enough to comprehend this. For young college kids, you might at the moment feel frustrated by the current situation you are facing, but those radical policies of Mr. Obama will sure to come back to haunt you after you leave school. Thanks Senator Obama!

    The second thing I want to thank Senstor Obama is how simplistic, unthoughful and dangerous Mr. Obama’s policy philosophy is by advocating another $150B stimulus package without knowing what happened to the last $70B package. Folks again, much of that $70B was shipped overseas like China, India, etc. by WalMart, Target, and the like. This might sound popular to some as it might help to alleviate the financial burden for the time being, but it is NOT GOOD for America! Given the current economic situation, do we need another stimulus package, yes we do. But it should be done in way that it will help create jobs in America, not in overseas to allow this deficit monster to be able to feed on itself to destroy our economy. If you listen to Mr. McCain, his approach makes lots of sense by reducing taxes to allow small business to hire and buy America. That is what we need for the next president. Folks, we should be smarter! People like McCain in Washington will find a way to let the money to stay in America and to help America, not those across the oceans! Again, thanks Senator Obama!

    October 11, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  2. Soren

    The truth occasionally hurts. A lot!

    October 11, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  3. David - Florida

    McCain is truly pathetic. How can he possibly get upset about something being a "Character attack"?? His entire campaign strategy the past three weeks has been 100% about character attacks towards Obama.

    These WWF republicans showing up at these McCain-Palin "Hate" rallies represent everything that is wrong in this country.

    Thank God the majority of this country seems to be starting to wake up to the fallacies of the right wing.

    Obama/Biden 2008!!

    October 11, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  4. Debbie, Los Angeles

    Lewis is absolutely CORRECT! The last few days of McCain’s campaign ads and things Palin have said, angers me. Mostly it has caused me to fear for Barack's safety. I am a Black American and I feel the sting in Palin’s words and tone and it has caused me sadness. Sadness, that Americans still hate us because of our skin color, but she professes to be a Christian and that is not how God wants us to behave. Something had to be said, and I'm sure there are many more leaders out there, regardless of color that disagree with the negative statements and ads against Barack’s character. McCain is contradictory. On the one hand he runs ads that say Obama “runs with terrorists” and at the same time he is saying “don’t be scared of Barack”… Which is it McCain?

    Obama in ’08!

    October 11, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  5. gobadgerzzz

    Thank you Congressman Lewis. The issue of racism must be addressed, not supressed, by the McCain campaign in order to prevent violence. The McCain/Palin ticket is going negative and there are serious repurcussions for that. Rather than address the hatred, violent and racist comments made, McCain is trying to quiet the concerns of people who have been the direct victims of these attacks. If Obama gets hurt, McCain will be scrutinized for his failure to address the hate mongering occuring at his rallies. Step up McCain! Face your people and your supporters and acknowledge them for what they are, rather than telling victims of racist attacks to quell their concerns.

    October 11, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  6. Helena

    Excuse me John McCain, but you & Sarah Palin have been the ones attacking Barack Obama's character and allowing your hateful & racist supporters to shout out very vile comments at your rallies.

    October 11, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  7. Denise Bolin

    McCain and Palin are entering into dangerous territory and it's clear the american people don't approve based on the latest polls reflecting an even wider gap in the polls in favor of Barack Obama. That is encouraging. McCain is seen as a desperate and hateful man whose dignity and honor are fading with each lie he tells about Obama. It's McCain/Palin we need to fear judging by their lack of concern for country first. They are hypocrites and should be ashamed of themselves. If things don't go their way, they just deny them anyway or play the victim role. Hopefully the american public sees through it for the despicable stunt that it is.

    October 11, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  8. rossy

    Rep Lewis is correct. Please, Senator Obama don't listen to McCain. Rep Lewis is correct, McCain campaign has condone hatred among his supporters. Rep Lewis has a lot of wisdom.

    October 11, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  9. Michael

    This white middle age Police Officer and Republican. Thinks Lewis is right on the money. The disgusting Palin speech where the crowd yelled 'Kill Him' and shouted Racial Slurs at a black camera man. Is straight out of the 60's south. All that was missing was the hoods and burning cross. You Apologize McNazi !

    October 11, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  10. Mrs. Texas Teacher

    McCain and McPalin are making comments that are "shocking beyond the pale".... but true to Republican form, they can dish it out.... but they surely CANNOT take it!

    I think they simply LIVE for any rebuttal of their outrageous claims as an opening to scream outrage at their opponents. This is pure Karl Rove tactics! Such hysterical behavior is just the way he handled the Bush/Cheney campaign.

    Too bad too many of their base followers are of that same mentality! McCain is taking us backwards in race relations and simple human relations in this country. He is appealing to the most base instincts of ignorant and uneducated individuals of our society.

    These Republicans have no shame. It is surely win at any cost from their camp! I am so pleased to see that Obama attacks the issues and McBush's stance on those issues. We know what he wants. Too bad McSame is too ashamed to admit that he is simply for more of the same Bush policies!

    We still cannot afford four more years of Bush's trickle down economics. There will be nothing left of this country. Bush, McCain and their wealthy buddies will simply move away for the US and find another place where they can rape the average man and get paid for it.

    October 11, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  11. Netty

    What planet are you from, McCain. Both you and your shotgun rider have been asking. "Who is the REAL Barack Obama"? Can you explain you're answer to that question?

    October 11, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  12. Sexism is live in America

    It's obvious from the hatred displayed in the democratic primary and continued once Senator McCain chose a woman VP, that sexism is more prevalent in america than racism ever was. Racism was real and was conquered, yet women still suffer the discrimination they did over a 100 years ago. I am appalled at ANY woman who has the nerve to support Roe vs Wade yet refuses to accept a woman in the White House. It would seem that these women are contemporary slaves to their master male role models.

    October 11, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  13. dustin

    rob: because wright and farrakhan aren't at obama rallies yelling at white cameramen and yelling to kill mccain.

    October 11, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  14. California Gold

    Congressman Lewis is correct. This week has brought us record lows in humanity and American politics. I never thought I would witness hate rallies and crowds encouraged to yell out to kill another human being. Hearing a call by a mob for murder and to kill and receive encouragement is the more fearful thing I have witnessed in my adult life. What makes it more frightening is a Presidential and Vice Presidential candidate from one of the 2 major political parties are the instigators leading the battle cry. This country could be imploding both politically and financially.

    If McCain were a true leader and a real man, he would be tackling this alarming discourse. His refusal to simply implicates him as a conspirator. I had thought more of McCain.

    October 11, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  15. aleco-NOKOMIS,FL


    October 11, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  16. j9

    If you are not voting Obama because he is black, you are a racist, however, if you are voting for him because he is black, you are also a racist. Get your heads out of your butts people. You are ALL wrong! I am an independent, and would not vote dem or repub if you all were the last folks on earth! Both sides are guilty as sin. Both sides are wrong. Both sides have on blinders. Period.

    October 11, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  17. Dolores

    The statements by Senator Lewis are absolutely correct!!!!! What we are seeing right at this moment is a viscious, last ditch attempt at slandering Senator Obama. I stated last week to a family member if violence erupts over this campaign and something hideous ensues that this will be the last election I ever participate in or vote in. This country must come together as a people of democratic faith. I am fed up to my neck at these remarks. We have a nation in extreme economic crises. The difficulties that face us are being ignored and to add insult to injury these candidates are about to create another potentially serious issue! Stop this crap now! We know who the next president is already! And so does Senator McCain. We are on the brink of a historic moment in our history. President Obama wil have RADICALLY new ideas. Just what our country needs! So Senator Barrack Huessin Obama I wish you well in your Presidency and may God be with you and Senator Biden. Because unfortunately you will inherit a conundrum beyond belief. Neither of you caused this issue nor helped but it is time to come the aid of your country. Congratulations Senators Obama and Biden. We look forward to your great leadership!

    October 11, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  18. cecil

    McCain Nor Palin Said Nothing For Days To Repudiate There Own Supporters!

    I Feel The Same Way As Lewis It Was Getting Crazy!

    October 11, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  19. james

    What's so funnny about this, is what all you people believe from the messiah, the chosen one (those are your sides words.........not mine)

    Funny when the truth hurts!

    October 11, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  20. Audrey

    What the congressman said is right!!!! The McCain campaign should realize it's the same thing.

    October 11, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  21. michael minorgan

    I'm very sorry Mr McCain but I felt the same undercurrent myself..and it is very dangerous

    October 11, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  22. Greg

    All of the candidates should take a step back and realize what it is that they're doing. They have incited people to hatred beyond normal acceptance and with either a wink or a nod, this hatred has been given tacit approval. Now that someone has given the rhetoric a true name, somehow our candidates are offended. All of a sudden, the people realize that the head of their party isn't wearing any clothes. November the 4th can't get here fast enough.

    October 11, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  23. nharris

    Good Job Lewis!!!!!! Why should you have to Apologizing for telling the truth!! McCain and Palin are the ones spilling hate!

    October 11, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  24. Lee from FL

    Truth Hurts!

    October 11, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  25. Grace Needed

    "Our country must return to the important debate about the path forward for America." says Senator McCain to Senator Obama. I am sorry Senator McCain you have NOT been the model for your own words. You have shared more negativity and attacks than a constructive plan forward ever since the Republican Convention, which was the rudest, derogatory display of rhetoric I've ever heard out of a convention. I lost all respect for the likes of NYC Rudy Guiliani, Sen. Graham, and Sen. Lieberman to support the most reprehensible smear tactics on record. Senator Lewis is absolutely correct in shaming you for unleashing your self-described 'pitbull' to insinuate that Senator Obama 'is not like us and doesn't see America like we do". Talk about divisive and disrespectful. She actually smiled and winked when someone called out "terrorist", etc. THIS IS WRONG! You finally decided in might be over the top when other Republicans repudiated you like Norm Coleman and Christopher Buckley. Yet, you waited too long and let this go too far to expect Senator Lewis to pull back his criticisms for such offenses. You've shamed yourself, your family, your party and your country. You might be able to recover some of your honor for past sacrifices and service if you go down with your self-imposed wounded ship graciously, but your integrity will be forever marred. May God have mercy on you for inflicting on us, as a leader, a V.P. choice not vetted who, with you and other Republicans have done more to set this country back decades than any Presidential/Vice Pres. in history.

    October 11, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
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