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. gwen

    what does obama have to do with Lewis's statements and why should he say anything about them when they are true. The Palin/McCain ha, ha, ticket is dividing our country with fear mongering!

    October 11, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  2. McCain Has No Morals

    We have known since Keating 5 that McCain had no ethics, now this past week we have learned that he also has no morals! Who in good conscious can really vote for this ticket?

    October 11, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  3. georgia

    Thank You congressman Lewis for boldly puting words to want many know ,fear & don't want. McCain knows exactly what he is setting up. but his overblown ego has him feeling he's entitled to the presidency inspite of his shoddy campaign . We must move forward !

    October 11, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  4. ellen

    I'm glad John Lewis made his comments. If McCain/Palin don't like them, then maybe they should stop their destructive lynch-mentality rhetoric, like "Who Is Obama?" (as though he's some mysterious figure worthy of suspicion–who is Sarah Palin, after all?), or words to the effect that Obama doesn't love America the way they do (like Palin's secessionist husband, I guess), or that Obama "pals around" with terrorists. All untrue statements intended to incite people's anger and cause them to respond with disgusting comments like "kill him," and "treason." McCain is the one who should be deeply ashamed of himself and the people running his dirty campaign.

    October 11, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  5. Janel, St. Paul, MN

    Thi is such a sad, tragic situation.

    I cannot believe what I've seen and heard from the McCain/Palin campaign. They have taken our country back 40-plus years.

    What a terrible example our presidential race is to the rest of the world.

    My prayer is that reason will prevail and that Americans will vote in our first African American president.

    October 11, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  6. McCain-Palin are LIARS !

    Why in the world would Sen. Obama repudiate the TRUTH that Rep. John Lewis has stated.

    What McCain and Palin need to do is apology to Sen. Obama and ALL of the America people for their hate-filled remarks and for wasting time in this election, turning the page from the economy, and turning to their old stale and dirty politics of fear, hatred, and division !

    McCain-Palin's campaign is in the toilet. The question now is how will they exit – as someone who tried to focus on the economic wows with real solutions, or as someone who spent all of their time in negativity and divisions. I wonder which one will they choose.

    I truly hope everyone will turn the page on this old dirty stale politics, and choose a better path. It's time for the American people to get it right and NOT vote for McCain-Palin, instead vote for change. It's time for this country to turn the page and seek a new and better future for ourselves and our children.It's time for REAL change in Washington, it's time to elect Barack Obama for president !

    Obama-Biden are the wiser and stronger team to solve the crucial challenges we have in this nation and abroad !

    October 11, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  7. adele

    Never in my life during an election have I seen where a sitting senator calls another one a terrorist. This is shocking. Its really sad that McCain campaign has come to this. Palin is a dispicable person.

    October 11, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  8. Inutah

    Thanks, Rep. Lewis for saying this.....to the McCain/Palin ticket I say enough already!!!

    October 11, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  9. Bama4Obama

    What nerve! McCain did nothing to clamp down on the hatred and divisiveness he and his bubble-headed running mate have stirred up at their own rallies. Obama is not responsible for a fellow legislator voicing his own opinion. McCain needs to take a long, hard look at thethings his own campaign (including his own wife!) have been saying and apologize for it. It's disgraceful!

    October 11, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  10. Imran

    Sorry Senator McCain.

    Senator's Lewis has it right 1000%.

    You, Palin, and the extreremsits in the Republcian Party should know today or tomorrow the party will be over as an empowered Black Population will send a Balck mna to the White Hosue even if it is not Obama.

    There is no place for racists in America.

    October 11, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  11. audrey

    Senator McCain has crossed the line.
    We all know it and that is why now he has changed his tune the past 2 days to say Obama is okay. That is after he and his gal pal Sarah Palin did a lot of dirty damage.
    She had people so riled up and still does that they are getting racist. Palin should go home so John McCain can do his work. She is a very bad influence.
    Also his ads are mostly lies. that is why I will not vote for him. they are truly low and dirty and always get a pinnochio nose for the lies in them
    He should be talking about something else. He is a desperado. And that scares me and the rest of the people.
    Palin is the reason his numbers have dropped. Not anything else. She is a Pit Bull for sure. She forgot her lipstick.
    And doesn't care who she harms.

    October 11, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  12. 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. 2

    October 11, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  13. Adele from Philadelphia

    Mr. Lewis please do not apologize for your statement. The comments that are coming out of the McCain rallies remind those of us who lived in that time that there are still people out there who would harm you because of your skin color, religion or sexual orientation and it is scary. This is supposed to be a political rally not a Klan rally. I am afraid of the people at John McCain rallies, they make me feel that they would hurt someone who looked different or thought differently than they do.

    October 11, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  14. Tin

    McCain-Palin now got a taste of their own medicine.

    October 11, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  15. Barb

    I was wondering when someone was going to say Gov. Palin and John McCain were going too far in their rhetoric. I have been concerned about how ugly the crowds were getting at Palin rally's and I'm glad Rep. Lewis stepped forward. Sen. Obama should not apologize for Rep. Lewis' comments. I support Sen. Obama 100%. Sen. McCain should be ashamed of himself.

    October 11, 2008 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  16. A.J.

    Rep. Lewis,

    Thank You!

    October 11, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  17. iyke in spain

    Like the comment I posted last week, "if McCain should continue with personal attacks, there will be no other option than he losing this election".
    Maybe he´s pointing one finger at Obama not knowing that thousands of Americans are pointing fingers at him. McCain should try and be professional and be who he´s supposed to be instead of making a fool of himself all the time.
    Though, he has lost this election, but he can still be on the right track if he starts telling Americans things they want to hear. It will however make Obama not winning with much margin.

    Bienvenido Obama/Biden!

    October 11, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  18. Robert

    The only thing that scares me more than a President Obama is reading the comments of this ignorant people above. How anyone can think that the republicans are playing the race card obviously has not been paying attention as Obama was the first one to bring it up. Further, McCain has not used the race issue, he has spoken of factual connections (Ayers and Wright) that Obama continued to deny until he was forced to address them and then lied about them. Talk radio has been documenting these relationships for over a year, it is nothing new, but the main media has just now began to address them which has put them on the open table and the McCain Campaign has rightly called out Obama to address them. Now the Democrats are running scared and crying foul because the truth is finally coming out. Do your due diligence, go back and read and you will find it is Bill Clinton and Obama who have made race an issue, not McCain.

    Before you write me off as I blind rebuplican, let me tell you, I wish the republican candidate was anyone else besides John McCain, but it isn't. Also, I wish the democratic candidate was anyone except Obama (with his mighty 143 days of experience). I am so frustrated with this election, but even more irritated by the ignorance of posters on this and other sites who cannot see through the arrogance of Obama and the disaster that is being brought on our country by the current democratic leadership in Congress. God helps us all!!!!

    October 11, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  19. Evelyn, St.Louis, MO

    I agree with John Lewis. McCain and Palin were wrong to call Obama a terrorist when they know it is not true. They stirred up anger and hatred with their followers screaming "kill him," "cut off his head!" They are the ones who need to apologize.

    Thank you, John Lewis. I know your struggle for civil rights. I witnessed it and I read your book. I appreciate you and your contributions. Because of you, I can vote. John McCain is not worthy of the office of President of the United States.

    October 11, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  20. Tony Allen

    The "Race Card" – is always just a toss away for the Obama crowd - and there is nothing the McCain camp can do about it. There is a political double-standard these days and John McCain is going to be the victim of it - mark my word – if Obama doesn't win - it will almost CERTAINLY be attributed to "racist attitudes" in America.

    October 11, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  21. no joe 6pak

    What we now have is a candidate whose mental reecords are
    permanently sealed and now loaded with the backing of the
    NRA. As the song says, "when will we ever learn"

    October 11, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  22. Mike from CA

    For Palin to say Obama, a sitting US Senator is a pal with terrorists is over the top, the hypocrisy of McCain is WAY over the top. Enough.

    October 11, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  23. Jay

    This is just another SCUMBAG STUNT!
    How about you apologize for all the rallies you had last week????

    October 11, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  24. Bevin

    Is it opposite day? McCain must be losing his mind. He and Sarah Palin are the ones who need to apologize. And if John McCain really is wondering who the REAL Barack Obama is he needs to be a man and bring it up at the next debate. Hatred is a very dangerous thing to stir up in large crowds. I don't think they realize what they may be unleashing. The only perpetrator of evil on this earth is human unconciousness and Sarah Palin and John McCain seem to be out cold.

    October 11, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  25. Janel, St. Paul, MN

    I cannot believe what I've seen and heard from the McCain/Palin campaign in recent weeks. They've taken our country back 40-plus years. They cannot prevail for the sake of our union.

    October 11, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
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