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. JGM

    Senator McCain, You made the tactical mistakes: First your VP choice in Governor Palin, the bully and abusive female from an out of touch state as your VP choice (when you had another more appropriate and talented VP choice) simply because you can lord over her. Then you and she together drummed up your joint pack of attack dogs such that they are now lunging and drooling. It's your dogs John, you are responsible for this dangerous drivel, so you may want to call them off...

    October 11, 2008 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  2. plain jane

    The Democrats are throwing race into everything! This is sick and VILE. You wonder why tensions are high...comments like THIS from John Lewis!!!!

    October 11, 2008 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  3. Charles

    Lewis is right. McCain has stepped over the line with his ads and mouth. Big time. This could be a disaster in the waiting.
    Palin is a big instigator and I only hope nothing happens to Obama. If it does it will be a civil war.

    October 11, 2008 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  4. Anna Fay

    I agree that McCain and Palin are instigating violent behavior they should talk about their plans and quit the hate talk.

    October 11, 2008 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  5. Remus

    I was just having a conversation with my parents (Democrats of course) about this very subject. They were telling me that before Dallas in 63' it was this kind of raw hatred towards Kennedy. Obama I have no doubt will win this election and it scares the hell out of the regressive republican party because they can no longer manipulate the public like before. Racism comes in all ages but the baby boomers and older (white) are the root cause as they statistically are the most intolerant (and under educated). As that generation slowly dies off the Republicans Party will become weaker and weaker as my generation and below (generation X) does not buy in to their perspective of things on hardly anything. In short we are most like looking at the beginning of the "death" of the Republican Party as we know it, and good riddance.

    October 11, 2008 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  6. Eleanor

    I agree with rep Lewis
    McCain and Palin have been inciting hatred and racism for awhile now
    and its downright dusgusting
    If McCain cannot see that well both him and Palin should take a long look in the mirror
    they are repûblicans the suppose to be christians
    what a pack of hypocrites
    what has been going on in that campign is far from being christian!!
    I see Senator Obama and biden as the christians in this scenario

    October 11, 2008 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  7. Pete

    Being white and republican, there has been trivial pursuit on both side so gimme a break when either side cries a river. I admired, and still do, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr when I was younger and inda feel he would be disappointed in Mr Lewis' comments. My question, who would benefit from his hateful, hurtful comments? He should be ashamed of himself!

    October 11, 2008 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  8. Sarah- ARIZONA

    Obama does NOT need to apologize for anything. When Mcains name is brought up at his rallies ppl just "booo" . Unlike Mcains and Palins rallies they cause hatred, fear and violence language to be brought out into this political atmosphere.

    So plz Obama should not be the one apologizing and just bc mcain briefly respected Obama for one town hall does not get rid of all the hatred and anger he has already sown within his party.

    Mcain – dishonerable, pathetic, old man

    October 11, 2008 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  9. Jane

    Watching GOP rallies this week reminded me of lynch mobs with Sister Sarah as Grand Master of the KKK. I think Congressman Lewis is spot on. I've lived in the South and these people are easily incited and very scary. They (McCain and Palin) are playing with fire.

    October 11, 2008 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  10. Scott

    What I am tired of is Democrats playing the race card in an effort to destroy their opponents. I am willing to bet that none of the people leaving comments here have actually been to a McCain/Palin Rally and heard first hand these supposed death threats etc against Senator Obama; instead, this just sounds like a bunch of parrots repeating Democrat talking points. I am sure that no one at a Obama/Biden Rally has made any sort of threat against President Bush, right?

    October 11, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  11. Lorenzo Clemons

    When someone keeps calling Mr. Obama an 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 liar, 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 crowed theater, 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 their 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 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  12. Michael Rehfeld

    McCain and Palin have made some nasty comments about Obama.
    I don't care for dirty politics, this is why I am voting Democrat this election. The McCain camp blurts out the wrong doings about Obama, Well what about shooting wolves from an aircraft? This is very unsportman like and is a pretty serious crime in other parts of the U.S. The wolves could be captured and relocated some where in Alaska, it's a very big state.

    This is my opinion.

    October 11, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  13. Wendy Neal

    McCain is a joke. At one time I respected him. I suppose after this election his political career is over.

    October 11, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  14. lady

    thank you rep.lewis, for telling the truth its about time some one have the guts to stand up to mccain and ms winky. god dont like ugly people . this girl is for obama and biden,

    October 11, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  15. sandee in Portland

    Go Senator Lewis. I'm so glad someone actually had the guts to call it like it is. When your campaign continually says the other candidate is palling around with terrorists, those people that are dumb enough begin to believe that makes that candidate a terrorist and unfortunately, a lot of those dumb people are attending Palin's rallys. I still remember watching the GOP convention with only white faces in the crowd. At the Democrat convention, you saw people of every color and race. The true party of America the melting pot of the world. McCain is the one who should apologize....it's his campaign that has brought about this great division of our country. I can't ever remember a campaign that has been this ugly; however, on the other side, I can't remember a campaign that has generated as much interest as this one either.

    October 11, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  16. Rob

    LEWIS IS RIGHT JOHN! You and Ms. Palin are the ones who owe Obama and all of us an apology! For shame! I used to admire you. This election has changed you. Signed, Robert a Former Republican.

    October 11, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  17. Jennifer from GA

    I believe McCain and Palin have switched parties from the one time respected Republican Party to the party of Absolute Hypocrisy.

    October 11, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  18. Mike, Ohio

    Shame on McCain. He has lost my respect. The thought of him representing the USA on the world stage is frightening.

    October 11, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  19. Eileen from Maine

    Don't be such a coward, John McCain. Stand up and take responsibility for your actions.
    Cowering now or blaming other people is only going to make you look smaller in peoples eyes. We are all fully aware of what you and your gal pal have been up to and Americans are getting FED UP with it!

    October 11, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  20. Roland

    Rep. Lewis is right on target. Call a spade a spade. McCain is feeding a terrorist spirit in this country.

    October 11, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  21. Lisa

    Everything he said is atleast true John McCain. If you can dish it out now try and take some, you started it so what are you complaining about, knock it off Grandpa, you and Gidget are tough or so you say!!!

    October 11, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  22. Steve Chan

    The statement by Lewis is absolutely on the mark. Not only Mr. Obama should not "repudiate" that, he should add "I approve his statement".

    The kind of anger and hatred incited by the McCain/Palin campaign, expecially in Palin's rallies, is absolutely the lowest of the low, the dirtiest of the dirty, and they are playing with fires. Instead of Obama repudiating anything, McCain's campaign should first repudiate not only the kind of anger and hatred and racial insults (at for example a media technician) but Palin herself before Obama should consider anything.

    October 11, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  23. Peggy

    McCain has unleashed a monster, and, no, I don't mean Governor Palin. We all have fears and worries. I am truly frightened by the idea of a President who took six years to finish college, and just been found by BIPARTISAN committee to have abused her power, and who displays more narcissism than Narcissus. But to appeal to those fears by using words like "domestic terrorist" and "liar" is despicable. It illustrates that my fears about McCain are correct. An Independent, I had considered voting for "that man", but suspected he might be simply an opportunist. That has been made clear at this point.

    Obama needs all our help. Get out and vote, and take a neighbor with you!

    October 11, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  24. toohip

    Thank you, Rep. John Lewis, for pointing out the hatred being spewed forth by John McCain's personal attack dog, Sarah Palin. McCain comes out and denounces hatred, but, at the same time, allows his running mate to run amok.

    It's a pretty scary time with the U. S. economy tanking-emotions are running high-calling out irresponsible behavior does not require an apology.

    DO NOT APOLOGIZE, OBAMA OR LEWIS. The apology should come from the McCain/Palin camp-particularly from that smiling pitbull, Sarah Palin!

    October 11, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  25. Angelia Rheingans

    I am a white American and I have never been more ashamed to call myself an American. The hate and racist rhetoric that John McCain and Sarah Palin are instigating at their rallies is reminiscent of the 60's. Our country is in crises and we need answers and solutions. What we don't need is McCain/Palin riling up the hate mongers of this once great country. Americans are already fearful of losing jobs, homes, retirement funds, education, health care...etc When you instill even more fear and hate into people who are already on the edge, there is no telling what type of violence may irrupt. Shame on you McCain. What ever respect and admiration I once had for you has disappeared from you actions of this last week. You are not bringing the country together, you are dividing an already fragile nation.

    October 11, 2008 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
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