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. Joe M

    This 58 year old white guy, says John Lewis is 100% correct. McCain and, to a greater extent, Lewis have been pandering to the worst elements in American society.

    McCain's campaign is doing a lousy "Macbeth". Quite whining and clean up your act. While you're at it, look at the Latino vote polls, the "Country Club First" team is tanking there as well.

    McCain, Palin and the GOP campaign is a disgrace to the GOP and all Americans. Oh by the way, I was a card carrying GOP member until recently. Shame on McCain.

    October 11, 2008 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  2. thobeka

    Lewis is right McCain is inciting violence against a good man like Obama! Every time I heard "Kill Him", "Terrorist!" or any other dangerous statements, I was reminded of how America is not yet out of the woods when it comes to racism. Obama is aware of where we are as a country and he made a strategic move to not go down that route and has worked for him. McSame tried to mimic him but failed and now is following his fallback strategy! Racism is a cancer that needs to be eradicated in this country if this country is to succeed!

    October 11, 2008 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  3. turnabout is fair play

    So, it's ok for you and your slimy entourage of cowards to encourage and promote outrageous and categorically FALSE character attacks on Obama, but it is "shocking" and "beyond the pale" when someone turns around and speaks the TRUTH about your character. John and Sarah, you disgust me

    October 11, 2008 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  4. ready for change

    mccain and his running mate got what they wanted, it just back fired on them, AMERICA IS TO SMART TO FALL FOR ANY MORE OF THEIR LIES AND COWARDLY WAYS. VOTE OBAMA-BIDEN

    October 11, 2008 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  5. 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! Palin's insistence on her following a Christian format in life, is a sad example of using religion to justify your racism and white supremacy. Vote for Obama so hopefully ALL of AMERICA WILL WAKE UP! GO OBAMA!

    October 11, 2008 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  6. cleduc

    Lewis is bang on.

    Read his words and move on to the next erratic, ill-conceived, fear mongering tactic, John. It will look "good" on your political epitaph beginning Nov 4th, 2008.

    October 11, 2008 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  7. d-man

    The McCain/Palin rallies are kinda creepy. The audiences look like a cross between a klan rally, and that crazy cast from that 60's B-movie horror flick "2,000 maniacs". This is very sad.

    October 11, 2008 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  8. linda

    Watching some of the clips of McCains ralleys reminded me of a linch mob ready with ropes and pickups. It's really scarey to watch McCain only pretend in a half baked way to tell the crown to calm down and not be afraid of Obama. OMG what are they thinking? Does McCain think Americans want to travel back to that time in history? Wake up America and demand an end to such behavior that has no place in this election. Seems too many rasists are hiding behind McCain and Palin. God help us.

    October 11, 2008 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  9. Lorenzo Clemons

    When someone keeps calling Mr. Obama a Arab in such a way as to degrade the term that is violence pushing. When people in the crowed scream "off with his head" and "kill him" and Palin/McCain just stand by and say nothing, that is violence. I have yet to hear that shouted from an Obama/Biden rally. When you say let us be kind to one another on the stage, while you call your opponent a lier, and worse that is violence. So, Mr. McCain it does not matter how often you say "my friends", you need to say "my fiends". John Lewis is correct, it is like yelling 'Fire" in a crowced theather, it is against the law. I have no problem about people being angry about politics, but when it becomes hate messages it is violence. Lastly, maybe Obama was right, "some people do cling to thier guns"! Heaven help us if these are the people who will run this nation.
    We must, we can and we will do better if we go in vote are hearts, mind and soul!

    October 11, 2008 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  10. Andre

    apologize?? what for?? its the truth.

    October 11, 2008 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  11. Bert

    The recent McCain campaign "tactics" just reminds me of another destructive 'campaign' of spewing hatred and fear in a neighbouring country east of the Netherlands about 75 years ago, e.g. culminating in the infamous 'Kristallnacht' (and in later years even worse). I must say that the same neighbouring country nowadays upholds the U.S. Constitution more than the U.S. itself

    October 11, 2008 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  12. Art

    I guess it's Ok for Black's to promote racism according to Lewis. I am so tired of certain african-americans who are racist and use the race card and try to make it seem like all other races have it in for them. What' about "The content of their character' . lewis does a great disservice to America and the ideals of Martin Luther King.

    October 11, 2008 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  13. Ari

    As a man who spent his childhood under a nazi regime that spewed hate towards my faith and family, I can attest that this behavior from McCain rallies reminds me strongly of the atmosphere that was used against jews. Hate is hate and McCain has lost all honor.

    October 11, 2008 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  14. cecil

    McCain Need To Google Some Of The Hateful Remarks Coming From His Supporters

    If I Was There I Would Of Ran For Cover, Them White Folks Are Crazy!

    Ugly Americans They Are.

    October 11, 2008 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  15. no joe 6pak

    What we now have is a candidate whose mental records are
    permanently sealed and who now has the full backing of the
    NRA. Serious medicine!

    October 11, 2008 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  16. nelson

    mccain's campaign loves this stuff otherwise he would not have anything to talk about.. he is a biggot and liar.. palin and simple
    This will cause a problem for mccain&palin as what they sowed is coming back to "get'em

    October 11, 2008 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  17. NoMccain

    For those people who claiim not to be racist, create a tauological argument that they are trying to say that Obama is Muslim or reverse racist somehow based on the premise that he is black. This is tautological and is indeed, racist.

    October 11, 2008 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  18. Jimmy from New York

    Oh, get used to this...it's just the beginning.

    When "President Obama" is criticised for anything he proposes to the Congress, or for anything he vetoes, or for any appointment he makes, we will be DRAGGED through the torturous media questions, "Is this really about race?"

    Let's get it straight: for every ten African American votes won by Senator Obama's there were 90 white votes. White America is putting him in office, so how about we lay off the "race question" for the next four/eight years. We'll have plenty of time to beat ourselves up later on, after the Obama presidency...spare us the pain now, please.

    October 11, 2008 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  19. Charlie from Cali

    McCain and Palin truly owe all of us an apology, they know exactly what they are doing, it is rediculous and outrageous to think they don't know and the hate that is brewing is a mistake or accident. John Lewis is right, George Wallace did help to create the climate of hate that motivated people to kill innocent men women and children. Mr. Lewis should be applauded for speaking out against this backward move to demonize Senator Obama which they know exactly where it would lead.

    October 11, 2008 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  20. Francisco Cardenas

    Why is it that every time someone questions Obama, it becomes a race issue? Please ... enough of the race card stuff already!!

    October 11, 2008 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  21. Empire, CO

    Lewis is right. McCain rallies are filled with bigots and haters. Nothing more than a Klan rally. Lewis is opening the eyes of the American people to the shameful darkside of America's bigotry, and it's nothing to be proud of.

    October 11, 2008 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  22. Tell Us Anything

    Republicans are like a cheating husband that tells the wife ...

    "oh baby I really love you .... after she's found another woman's scent in her own bed.

    October 11, 2008 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  23. ginger

    LEWIS is completely correct!!!!!
    The slander that has been used in the McCain campaign is beyond belief. The way venomous hatred rolls off the lips of Sara palin with such ease shows this is permanent part of her character. Senator McCain, why do you think your campaign is in trouble?? Fire Sara Palin and clean up your act!!!!!

    GO OBAMA!!!!

    October 11, 2008 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  24. Karen - Tired of McCain/Palin

    McCain is absolutely insane. Obama should not apologize.. The only reason why McCain denouonce the racist remarks is because the Republican party knew the probe into Palin was going to come out negative. So McCain don't want us to start screaming foul about Palin. The McCain party actually think we the American people are stupid. This enter week, Palin heard and spew lies and stirred up the crowds which incited racism and division in this country. Congressman Lewis is exactly right, it did remind a lot of us of the 60's and what happen in the south. end of story. I'm sick of McCain / Palin wanting favoritism when it's convenient for them.

    October 11, 2008 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  25. Kelli

    My father told me the other day that if John McCain from the 2000 primary was running this time, he would vote McCain. My father is a staunch democrat. Coming from him this means a lot to me. He told me that he was voting for Obama because of all of the insanity he's seen from this campaign. It hurts me to think that someone who once warranted so much respect has fallen to this. It is really incredibly sad. McCain sold out.

    October 11, 2008 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
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