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. Republican for Obama

    Repudiate what? After what I listened to last week, these are some words you should listen to Johnny.

    October 11, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  2. Isa

    John Lewis is 100% right on this one! John McCain heard the calls from his supporters yelling 'off with his head', 'kill him', 'terrorist'. I'm surprised we haven't heard 'hang him high' yet. And I'm sure that's just what John Lewis thought might come next. Who wouldn't think that? He was right to speak out about it.
    Hatred of all kinds has no place in this election. John McCain should apologize for having heard these comments for 2 days straight without stopping them until yesterday, shyly, I might add!
    Obama need not apologize for anything here. AT ALL.

    October 11, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  3. Judy from NC

    What did McCain think would happen? He and Palin have brought out the wackos with their hate speech. Did they really think they could insinuate that Obama "pals around with terrorists" and not incite violence?

    October 11, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  4. Gene from NC

    Major tragedies in my lifetime followed hateful words and incitement .
    I am frightened for America to hear the venomous words from McCain – Palin campaigns.

    Hateful words and inuendo preceded the great American tragedies of JFK in Dallas, MLK in Memphis and RFK in California.

    Beware America, hatred, incitement and unlimited gun availability provide fuel for additional great American tragedies.

    For all our sakes please let's cool the rhetoric and focus on the pressing issues challenging our American economy.

    October 11, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  5. Canadian observer

    Get your act together America. Thought you were finally getting over your racist past. Guess not. McCain and Palin rallies sound like unfettered nazi propoganda. Truly disappointing. Hope Obama turns the white house black!

    October 11, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  6. Oh Please

    Oh that's funny John McCain, you haven't had a problem going "beyond the pale" all week, inciting your supporters to want to kill Obama and cut off his head because you're out there telling them that he's a terrorist. The Bill Ayers attack is completely disengenious, and you should know how imflammatory the use of the word "terrorist" is. He and Obama aren't friends and you know it, and you know that Obama has absolutely nothing to do with Ayers' past activities, and that the only reason they crossed paths is because a Reagan supporting conservative who is still contributing to your campaign hired Ayers to work on a project to help improve education for children, and the woman who chose Obama to be her succesor and helped Obama start his political career, Alice Palmer, NOT Bill Ayers, took Obama to Ayers' house for a meet and greet. At that time, Ayers was a College Professor and an ex-Daley administration official, so why the heck would Obama think to ask whether or not he was a "terrorist"? Obama was asked by someone else, not Ayers who was put there by staunch Republicans, to help improve education for kids. And he crossed paths with a College Professor and a former Daley administration official. That's who Ayers was when Obama crossed paths with him trying to help kids, and you're using that to lead your followers to believe that Obama wants to kill people and destroy the American government. So you've got a lot of nerve talking about what's "beyond the pale" John McCain. What Lewis said is very real, and you need to check yourself and stop with the fake, self-righteous indignation.

    October 11, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  7. 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. You betcha!

    October 11, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |

    Mr. Lewis is absolutely correct, he has witnessed the type of hate that is fueled by certain words and attitudes. I live in Ga, there are folks who are just waiting for an excuse to bring back the KKK, Mr. Obama please do not come to McCains rescue, he made his bed, now he must sleep in it. It is obvious that Palin is a pro at inciting hatred, she has performed her attack role flawlessly. How can to individuals running for the highest office in the country and suppose to be able to lead all the people, not a select few, but all the people incite so much hatred?

    October 11, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  9. Unshrub

    Obama should emprace him and not reputiate him because he speaks the truth. McCain is the one responsible for this hate because he allows it to continue through Palin.

    October 11, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  10. Marylou

    men John Lewis..you are absolutely right. Until yesterday, when McCain sort of took the high road..they have been doing all they can to stir up the crowds, not to get out the vote..but to hate. I have lost all respect for McCain, and the Governor of Alaska,,the one that abuses her power..and the pulpit.

    October 11, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  11. An American voter

    under any circumstance I would not vote for you for the president of the USA, mr. mccain. but that is not the point. lots of people including I , however had great deal of respect for you as a senator , as a war hero and as a good person , that was what we thought you were. it is also true there is no chance without a miracle you will be elected to the office that you are seeking for. then , what for you are ,stooping so low , damaging your own reputation and revealing it more and more that you did not and do not deserve that respect as shown by your current over all behavior and atitude. life is too short. whatever , of it left , please live like a dignified person. it is not worth losing that dignity this way.
    wishing you well otherwise.

    October 11, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    McCain- you're a big joke.

    October 11, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  13. no joe 6pak


    October 11, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  14. TF

    Amen Rep. Lewis!!!

    When is McCain and Palin going to Repudiate the Shocking statements by their followers. They sound like the terrorists if you ask me.

    October 11, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  15. Jim Doyle

    Truth hurt Johnny?

    October 11, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  16. GlenR

    Good one John! Call on Obama to repudiate remarks that are entirely true and aren't remotely comparable to the hate your campaign is spewing.

    This stupidly transparent attempt is just another example of how disconnected with reality the McCain organization is. Every American with an IQ over 5 should be insulted that they would think us this gullible. This kind of crap smells of Ralph Reed and his moronic breed.

    This makes me question even more if the woman was a plant as part of a stunt to portray McCain as opposed to his own organizations tactics.

    October 11, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  17. Kelly

    If the shoe fits, Senator McCain.

    These dog whistle rascist comments, you know, the ones that use code words such as "arab," "terrorist," "not one of us" spell out without actually using the N-bomb.

    The fact that Palin, McCain and Cindy McCain, for the most part, stand silently, even smirking in approval as these horrible statements are screamed out make these Republican rallies look like Klan rallies of the past.

    The minimal lip service from McCain calling for respect yesterdays seems a dollar short and a day late. Take ownership of your rallies' tone and the mob mentality that you embrace.

    Shame on McCain and Palin for endorsing such hatred and the potential for violence.

    Our nation deserves far much better than these two hate mongers.

    October 11, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  18. Mr. T

    The Mccain Campaign already tried this Obama is the Playing the Race Card crap, but now everyone sees Mccain and Palin for what they are even without the hoods. Just sad that it took someone saying "KiLL Him' , "Bomb Obama" , :Terroist", "Traitor" and a whole host of other words im not going to get into. Im a conversative but this is not the Party of Lincoln this has become the Party of Nixon with that Vile southern Strategy Crap

    October 11, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  19. For shame

    Shame on you congressman Lewis for darkening the memory of those poor little girls for political gain. Both parties are stooping to new lows in this campaign as seen by the vile remarks on this ticker. The winner will have to remember that he needs the whole country behind him when he becomes President or else his victory will be a hollow one.

    October 11, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  20. Lorna, NY

    The only person who should be apologizing is John McCain & Sarah Palin. In fact, they need to apologize to the American people for their race baiting behavior. If no one made a stink about this, their campaign would continue with these attacks. I am finally proud of the MSM for blasting the McCain campaign for their behavior.

    October 11, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  21. diane catu

    We should all SPEAK UP to stop the hatred and the seperation McCain-Palin are trying to reinvent. The next war that may come, may be between racists and non racists! And Palin is a CHRISTIAN??

    October 11, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  22. Johnny

    Rep. Lewis is one 100% right. McCain/ Palin rallies look like the KKK rallies only more organized. We do not need this kind of divison in this country during these critical times

    Shame on McCain and Palin!

    October 11, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  23. OB

    It's about time that someone with stature such as John Lewis call out McCain for the shameless inferences to race, which encourage acts of hate. Obama ought not to dignify McCain's response. No apology/repudiation is needed. McCain has a responsibility here. He must put a stop to it before disaster strikes. On the contrary McCain ought to acknowledge that this has been the tone in order to rehabilitate his image as someone with decency. If he does this now, we may see a small rise in his poll numbers, though not enough to win the election.

    October 11, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  24. McHoover Would Destroy What's Left of America

    And the latest smear campaign by McCain/Palin is to attack Michelle Obama with innuendo based on LIES.

    Mr McCain if you have an ounce of shame left in yourself, utilize it and pull your campaign staff, Palin and yourself out of the gutter.

    October 11, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  25. Bryan Williams

    McCain has definitely proved how erratic he has become with this latest attempt to of all things demand that Sen. Obama repudiate Rep. Lewis's opinion of how he veiw's the tone of the McCain/Palin ticket. They have been trying to paint a picture of Sen. Obama as unamerican, unpatriotic, and a guy who thinks that domestic terrorism is ok. The McCain campaign says that these issues are "fair game", but we know that this is a desperate strategy to try to scare voters into thinking that Sen. Obama is something that he isn't. We have yet to see McCain and Palin apologize for the many lies that they are spreading on the web and through these untrue ads.

    Also there was a woman yesterday at a McCain rally who said she doesn't trust Sen. Obama because she thought he was an Arab. McCain did correct her, but what he didnt say is that there is nothing wrong with Americans being Arab or Muslim and his campaign doesnt condone the type of politics that divides our nation with these comments against law abiding Americans who happen to practice a different faith than them.

    October 11, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
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