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. mickaelle AKA

    no apologies from obama should be made. this is what everybody is sensing right now , out of these rallies. just full hatred seed, and racism insinuations

    October 11, 2008 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  2. Rj

    McCain is the political stuntman!

    October 11, 2008 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  3. therealmarie

    UnStable and UnAble still trying to stir up racial hatred Rovian Style. Go pound sand Old Man. You don'r hold town hall meetings, you hold Klan Rallies.

    October 11, 2008 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  4. Undecided...

    I'm white. I'm from the south (KY). I live around this filthy stuff everyday. McCain/Palin is adding fuel to the diminishing number of people who still have this mentality. They are inciting this B.S. I couldn't agree with John Lewis more!

    Living here in Kentucky, I hear this stuff all the time. McCain must wake up and talk about the issues. The smear campaign is not good for our country. Period.

    October 11, 2008 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  5. scarey

    You've GOT to be kidding, McCain! After the crap you and the Palin nitwit have pulled over the last week, you think this is "beyond the pale?" Give it a rest, McCain - you are dealing from a nasty, moldy deck. You just can't have it both ways! In fact, is some regions, your tactics would draw legal investigation. Thank your lucky stars that you and whatsherface are not both aren't run out of town!

    October 11, 2008 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  6. Grok

    McCain appears to be surrounded by vipers.

    Someone is whispering in his ear that he is doing the right thing and that it is so important that the ends justify the means. We all know where that leads.

    McCain needs to find his principles... unless they have been lost entirely in his age addled brain. Perhaps he become lost during his convention when all the material presented suggested how personally great he was.

    The worst thing you can do is start to believe your own press.

    McCain now comes across as a lurching "win at any cost" candidate instead of a tried and true patriot. His trials in the past do not imply that he is owed the presidency or that he gets a free past with respect appropriate behavior.

    I am deeply disappointed that the religious right will continue to support people who are willing to lie and deceive, while bloating up with pride, just because of their views on social issues. The religious right needs to understand that their are other issues of import... not the least of which is the central message of caring for you fellow man - no matter who he or she might be.

    Lewis is exactly right and the only people who deserve repudiation are those in the McCain campaign that are willing to gamble with hatred and fear in an effort to win. It is simply despicable. Hopefully the public is getting a good view of lack of quality in the personal morals of the Republican party.

    It is sickening to watch.

    October 11, 2008 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  7. The Fat Lady

    If McCain is so eager to "return to the important debate" that we must have, why doesn't he? Instead, he picks Lewis' comments out of obscurity, elevates them to the national stage, and attempts to make political hay out of them?

    The McCain camp is really running on fumes these days.

    October 11, 2008 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  8. Unhappy Republican now for Obama

    "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."

    ...and it's true.

    Check out the You-tube videos of some of the crowds at the McCain rallies. Thank goodness I'm an independent.

    October 11, 2008 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  9. stophate

    John Lewis should be praised for being brave enough to come out and tell the truth about a very sad situation. The McCain/Palin attacks have been a new low. Racism and hatred should never be accepted. The American people deserve better from our leaders.

    October 11, 2008 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  10. Richard

    Why should Mr. Obama repudiate Mr. Lewis's comments? They are right on target. Yes, the McCain campaign HAS engaged in rabble-rousing and inciting mob-type reactions. Their references to: "he isn't one of us"; "terrorist"; "Hussein" are clearly intended to elicit hate and bigotry. I challenge anyone to prove otherwise. Hopefully, none of this will ever lead to violence, but it certainly has the potential to do so.
    As to the attempt to make ignorant voters believe that Mr. Obama is a Muslim, I would point out that any Muslim who is a native-born American has as much right to run for President as Mr. McCain does. This is just an attempt to play to the bigotry of some voters.
    I just wish that Mr. McCain would return to the issues that can restore this country's financial health and unity.

    October 11, 2008 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  11. Evelyn Lam

    I believe Mr. Lewis was correct in his appraisal. Sen. McCain says he was criticizing Sen. Obama's record. I would like to know how serving on a board with Mr. Ayres and indicating that makes him part of a "terrorist" agenda is relative to his record.

    October 11, 2008 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  12. Syymone

    McCain really has some nerve,he and his moose hunting counterpart have called Obama a ist and he has stood around while his dumb supporters called Obama the same and now he has issues with what Lewis said because it was truth........What a hypocrite that man is and his desperate attempts to get people to focus off the economy is amazing.

    October 11, 2008 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  13. Chardonnay

    mccain need to get a life and start running his campaign!

    October 11, 2008 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  14. JG from MA

    Okay McCain. Give a better explanation of why your supporters have been acting the way they have been lately.

    Vote Hope, not Hate

    October 11, 2008 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  15. mary delano

    But Lewis is right.

    October 11, 2008 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |

    But that is what McNasty and Palin are doing! Even many in their own party think so. Palin is a terrorist! What do you think when the secret service is called in to investigate her and McCain's rallies? It is dangerous and UNAMERICAN!

    October 11, 2008 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  17. David in San Diego

    Mr. Lewis is absolutely correct.

    The McCain/Palin pandering to the far right, creation of false issues tied to events of 40 years ago and the political rallies that now seem more like KKK meetings so full of hate generated and encouraged by McCain's and Palin's statements– are not political discourse but intentional and shameful efforts to divide the country along racial lines.

    McCain should be ashamed of his conduct, and he should be the one seeking Mr. Lewis' forgiveness– not the other way around.

    October 11, 2008 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  18. TexasVet

    McCain needs to just sit down and shut up, because the truth hurts. He and his Nitwit of a running mate have been picking at the sore of hatred for the past week. I WILL NOT give him a pat on the back for finally speaking up yesterday at his rally. He started this mess. The LAST thing we need is for our nation to be distracted by hatred and racism. In such uncertain times we need each other more than ever. I am a fellow veteran and have always had a certain amount of respect for MAC but I've since seen the error of my ways. He sold his soul to the devil to be president and win or lose he'll NEVER regain my respect. I'm sure many of my fellow brothers and sisters in the service feel the same.

    Obama/Biden 08!

    October 11, 2008 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  19. kate

    Is Mccain serious. What Lewis said is the truth. Lewis lived in the era of George Wallace he knows a Wallace want be when he sees one. I can imagine the truth hurts, but to discredit the man's fears as shocking is utter nonesense. Lewis is entitle to feel fear given the history he lived and the nut jobs at Mccain rallies.

    Mccain should be ashamed for allowing hate to flourish at his rallies.

    October 11, 2008 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  20. Kerri from Indy

    Is McCain CRAZY!!!!! His supporters are calling Obama a terrorist and his campaign spokesperson said Obama was "attacking McCains supporters"!!!! He should repudiate his running mate for saying Obama was "pallin around with terrorists"!! He is CRAZY

    October 11, 2008 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  21. oh please.

    *rolls eyes*

    October 11, 2008 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  22. Ozzy

    What John McCain is doing will and is separating Americans. While phe presents a less menacing speech John McCains running mate is creating a forum of hate. While Sarah Palin has her own issues to deal with that the Democratic team is not using for attack she is creating something dangerous and something that has not been so vivid in over 50 years. The media is playing into her hand and the country is paying the price......The Republican party needs to consider the people, the country and the situation instead of dangerouslly taking the country in the wrong direction......

    October 11, 2008 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  23. Dan

    My copy of the Constitution must be outdated, mine still contains the right to free speech in it. I would like Mr. Lewis to send me a copy of his. just to make sure I am up to date on the new Democrats constitution.

    October 11, 2008 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  24. idiots for McPalin

    uh.. I didn't see anything shocking that Lewis said. What is shocking is the Klan-like audience at Palin rallies. And palin who smiled through it all.

    Ohio is a scary place.

    October 11, 2008 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  25. Welcome to the Party

    It sucks when somebody attacks your character doesn't it Johnny? Maybe there's a lesson in there . . .

    October 11, 2008 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
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