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. Connie

    I believe that McSenile and Palin have spent a whole week spewing hate and now the chickens have come home to roost. McSenile may want to stop whining . OBAMA/BIDEN 08
    Connie from Indiana

    October 11, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  2. old white woman in NC

    I'm rich, white, angry, AND a Southerner, born and bred, and Lewis is completely correct in his appraisal.

    This vicious campaigne lies at the foot of the man and woman trying to get elected by inciting their followers to believe in an undemocratic, rascist, partisan world.

    So I, too, am angry at McCain and especially Ms Unethical Palin!

    October 11, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  3. TMill, CA

    Okay..so let me get this straight...It's perfectly fair for the GOP and their candidates to smear a half-white, half-black presidential candidate, AND allow their rally attendees to shout vicious threats and negative slurs....But it is NOT fair for supporters of this same candidate to speak out with evidentiary history that clearly addresses the verbal and political posture the GOP is taking. I find this amazing, and obviously these individuals who are supporters of the GOP and their ticket think that the rest of us Americans are extremely ignorant. But we are not....God is watching, and listening, and not in a state of idleness, for sure.

    October 11, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  4. s.positive

    OBAMA and his team should stay out of this. Let Mcbush and his lot clean the mess they created...

    October 11, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  5. wakeupamerica

    Finally, someone with some sense. Thank you John Lewis! McCain and his campaign knew what they are doing when they started this vitriol and now they're trying to place the blame elsewhere. We see you for who you are. I used to buy your war hero schtick. Now all I see is a disgraceful old man with a lying, abusive, nonelected-husband-in-her-office-running the shots, claiming she's a Christian and hateful vice presidential pick. This is how you would run our country? I don't think so.

    Obama/Biden '08

    October 11, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  6. Velma Smith

    I actually imagined, when I watched McCain's response to some of the hate-filled crazies, that his better side might be re-emerging. I'm sorry that my wishful thinking was wrong. It is clear that McCain/Palin are creating and fanning the flames of racism and intolerance; it's a terribly dangerous game they are playing, and it is an understatement to say that it's disappointing.

    October 11, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  7. Kellie

    McCain and his cronies can dish it out hatred and when called on it they want Obama to step up????????????? Unbelievable.......

    October 11, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  8. Ronnie Womack

    This is interesting to me. I was stating what Congressman Lewis has stated last night with my girl friend. I told her that this whole episode going on while McCain and Palin are out stumping reminds me of things read and scene during the Civil Rights Movement where people gathered around their supremists leaders who constantly stoked the crowd with behaviour presently seen at McCain-Palin rallys.

    October 11, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  9. Amy

    If the shoe fits...

    October 11, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  10. April

    It is good to see that although people disagree, no one is threatening violence to any of the candidates. Hopefully, most Americans who are McCain/Palin rally attendees, will keep their cool.

    October 11, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  11. Nicole WA

    McShame's problem is that he doesn't realize that Rep. Lewis isn't speaking about attacks on Obama's record or policy... he is refering to the unbelievably unsettling comments that are being made at McCain & Palins rallies! McCain made no attempt to refute the cries of "Terrorist" at his rally in reference to his question of who is Obama really? His claims that they cannot hear these remarks are ridiculous! The look on McCain & Palin's faces when these comments are made is enough evidence... they hear it and they were enjoying the rage until they realized the majority of Americans will not tolerate it! They are only changing their tone now that it is backfiring on them! McShame's efforts to diffuse his crowds now is much too late... we can all see the wolf for what he is! Rep Lewis is just telling it like it is!

    October 11, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  12. Don P

    It seems to me that McCain and the Republican party plays to the hateful and racist constituents that clearly are the bulk of their party, without them they cannot win. Thanks to George go it alone Bush and the disenfranchisement of so many Americans of color, Mccain / Palin find themselves in one heck of a pickle as demonstrated my his attempts to calm the hateful and racist rants of the mob crowd that turn out to see him. They booed nhim for stating that Barack Obama was a decent man who they did not have to fear. All during McCain and Palin's campaign they referenced "Joe six pack, Walmart moms and Nascar dads as their supporters as if people aren't aware that it's code for racist white america. Well there is a saying for that ... you lay down with dogs you get up with cancer...lol

    October 11, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  13. T'SAH from Virginia

    The Republican campaign is spreading HATE – We already have an incident here in Virginia – in one of our counties – where "people with guns" are threatening Obama – thinking he is a "terrorist".

    This is a time we DO NOT need to stir up what already "secretly" exist – OR, maybe this is the time which is why Obama ran for President in the first place – THE FIERCE URGENCY OF NOW!!!! ... Think about it!!!

    OBADEN 2008-2016!!! YES WE CAN overcome and get rid of the HATE!!

    October 11, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  14. Unbelievable

    All McCain has left is the race card. Problem is if he uses it it's a hail Mary and he goes down as one of the most disgraceful presidential candidates in recent history.

    Obama has the perfect path to ride this out to victory. McCain has completely lost control of his campaign and probably doesn't have enough time to get it back.

    He should've proved himself the maverick and challenged Bush for the nomination in 2004.

    October 11, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  15. DeVone

    Senator John McCain, I just watched your little raily I watched the 2nd debate I have seen and heard Gov. Palin and why did you go to these
    battle ground states? you are what you are, and white folk black folk
    asian haspanic democrates republicans we donot like the way you are running your campaign you are the croud you keep,you said that
    so on that note donot talk about the past when you are living it today.
    and the statement that one reminds me of when I was told you are not like the rest of them

    October 11, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  16. Carol

    Right. Obama should repudiate these comments when McCain and Palin repudiate the nutbars who attend their rallies shouting that Obama should be killed.

    October 11, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  17. Poor McCain

    His chances for winning are about as good as a snowball in hell.

    October 11, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  18. Sick of Them Both

    Is it me, or are John McCain and Sarah Palin squirrel bait? Really, really, this is beyond enough from McCain. He asked for it when he started trash talking, now he's whining about Rep. Lewis. Oh, boo-hoo, Cry me a freakin' river.

    October 11, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  19. E Vidler, South Carolina

    Why should anyone apologize for Lewis's statements? He's not even on Obama's staff. And besides, John Lewis is absolutely right. McCain and Palin are creating an atmosphere of rage and hatred. Watching those people made me think of Germany when Hitler began his rise to power. This is a terrible path McCain has chosen. Get off it now, before another tragedy like the one in Birmingham occurs.

    Vote for honor and decency. Vote Obama-Biden.

    October 11, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  20. Mary

    Senator McCain is again on the wrong track. He is going to start something that he can't control. George Wallace didn't hide his and that's the only difference between the two.

    October 11, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  21. James

    George Wallace never set off a bomb but William Ayers and Bernadette Dhorn has.

    October 11, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  22. Diane

    Even though they're true, Obama didn't make those remarks. Nothing for him to apologize about. McCain is just playing the good cop to Palin's bad cop. The scary thing is that Palin really seems to be enjoying herself.

    October 11, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  23. undecided voter

    You see!! When democrats say horrors and pestilence against Gov Palin is ok!! right? Democrats have tried to instill hatred for Gov. Palin!! I TAKE SERIOUS OFFENSE TO THAT!! I am a female with aspirations to politics like many young women ou there!! throwing insults towards Gov. Palin is throwing insults to all of us out here. I am not a dem or a rep but I am a decent citizen who relates to Gov. Palin! People!! talk about hatred!!! Stop! just Stop for a moment. Would you like for your daughters to be insulted like the way She has been (Gov Palin?) I feel for her parents!! What a shame!! I guess all of those individuals talking horors about Gov Palin were raised that way hu!! I admire and respect Gov Palin and wish her and Sen McCain my best wishes this coming election day!!

    Obama / Biden 2016

    October 11, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  24. Carlos Jean-Gilles

    Thank you congressman Lewis for pointing out the truth. The problem with racism is that there are two sides to it–a conscious one that is pretty easy to see, and an unconscious one that some people are still struggling to understand. Neither McCain nor Palin gets the latter. And that is why both McCain and Palin are having so much trouble to understand why the majority of Americans are rejecting their tactics as well as their campaign.

    Congressman Lewis is an extremely gentle man. If he came out so forcefully against McCain, the only explanation for that is, that Senator McCain's campaign has gone over the edge of civility.

    Carlos Jean-Gilles
    Saint Louis, MO

    October 11, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  25. kattie rood



    STOP THE HATRED AND APOLOGIZE TO SENATOR OBAMA. PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 11, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39