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. roberta

    it's no worse than palin saying that obama pals around with terrorists and that he doesn't see america as "we" do. she knows exactly what she was doing.. she was calling him unpatriotic and a sympathizer to terrorist causes.. she never called off the audience when they made racist comments and in not doing so, she validated them. she even said, "boy, you guys get it, don't you?".

    so yeah.. she is guilty of inciting this kind of hatred. it's her words that have caused these hate filled outbursts this weak.

    October 11, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  2. Mark

    I agree with Lewis and prase him for speaking out.
    I agree with Lewis and praise him for speaking out. And ask McCain why does Obama have to do anything about what Lewis said? I don't get this outcry from McCain at all. He and his running mate did things they shouldn't of done, got their supporters all worked up and oozing with racism, and now someone comes out and calls it like it is and somehow it's Obama's responsibility?
    Give it a rest MaCain.

    October 11, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  3. Zac

    There's no need for Lewis' statements to be repudiated by Obama because the statements are absolutely true. McCain-Palin rallies have turned to fear and hate mongering and with participants yelling things like "Bomb Obama" or "Kill Him" there is legitimate reason to be concerned. Anyone who thinks racism is a thing of the past in this country is a fool and need only look at these rallies as proof.

    October 11, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  4. angela

    We dont need McCain or Palin and their hate filled followers anywhere near the White House.... they are poisonous to Democracy.
    We have come along way in the war against racism and cannot afford to give up ground with McCain and Palin in charge.
    Obama will win by a landslide and it will be a giant step forward in racism and rogue politics.
    God Bless America and common sense.

    October 11, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  5. Rob

    All week as we watch the economy collapse, I saw the disturbing divisions being catalyzed by the McCain campaign. Rep. Lewis had the courage to speak as many stood silent.

    I am proud to be American again today!

    October 11, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  6. rory

    HEY McCAIN "STEP UP" and tell him yourself.

    October 11, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  7. Hillary Supporter


    October 11, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  8. John

    He was being charitable. I'd liken recent Republican rallies to the Nuremberg rallies.

    October 11, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  9. j

    Rep. Lewis, calling them like he see's them.
    Wish he was my congressman.

    October 11, 2008 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  10. DJB

    The majority of you are being completely unreasonable. Senator McCain and Governor Palin have not made any racist remarks. They have attacked Obama, yes, but they have attacked him on his policies, his platform, and his connections to unsavory individuals (such as Avery). Never once have they sought to make race the issue, and if you had been following carefully you would see that McCain has even publicly put down his OWN SUPPORTERS who bring up the race issue at his rallies, and asked them to "respect" Obama as he does. Those who agree with Rep. Lewis are the ones bringing race to the discussion; YOU are the racists (or "reverse racists") - not Senator McCain.

    October 11, 2008 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  11. Non-racist in Ohio

    McCain/Palin fanned the flames of racist hated. Now that the secret service is looking into the death threats to Obama at a McCain rally called Obama a "decent man." Pure CYA with no honesty. Sorry John, you can't ask for Obama's help on this one.

    October 11, 2008 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  12. Rob

    Senator McCain, when you made a conscious effort to go negative, and engage in this type of rhetoric, it was very forseeable that this would happen. There is still an undercurrent of racism in this country, and you've been fanning the flames all week by implying that Senator Obama is "not like us", "pals with terrorists", and "who is Senator Obama?" like he's this scary individual..

    Also, how is Rep. Lewis trying to "shut down debate" when all you've engaged in all week is all negative all the time. Is that debate?

    I'm not sure how you keep attacking the Obama camp for something they are not doing, but that you in fact are.

    Rep. Lewis is just standing up at saying enough is enough, which is what I'm sure a lot of Americans are feeling right now.

    Please stop this now. It is beyond reprehensible.

    October 11, 2008 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  13. Donald

    For McCain-Palin, the chickens are coming home to roost. They let the genie out the bottle winking at past, baseless comments so now their constituents are in a tizzy and there is nothing they can do about it. The racist cabal is loose among the Republicans and by taking a scortched eatrh policy have sealed their fate

    October 11, 2008 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  14. odessa ohio

    i had enough of the horrible acts that the mccain-palin is putting on..first they called themselves as mavericks, now they are nothing but cowards..palin is continuing hatred where ever she goes and she supposed to show some type of leadership,does nothing about it..so it shows to us that she is prejudice..i guess that she still lost to a black women over 20 years ago regarding her beauty pageant days..as for mccain, he will do anything to win and his tactics are old as well sickening..i hope that everyone is getting their butts to vote for obama because the last eight years are enough..we don't need racism into our politics..when this kind of crap will end?..lewis is right and mccain needs to be a better man than this..stop being a follower mccain, start being a leader if you can..

    October 11, 2008 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  15. Sheila

    The McCain rallies have been gradually shaping into KKK rallies. One after the other.

    It doesn't matter if the speaker him or herself doesn't advocate the words and deeds of the audience. It is the audience that is the problem. It that audience that is the product of John McCain and Sarah Palin due to their increased rhetoric, lies, and smears.

    You've created a monster, Republican ticket, and now you're getting attacked by that monster.

    October 11, 2008 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  16. SO many pothetic comments here!

    There are more ignorant people posting comments on this web site, than I have seen on "my big redneck wedding"!

    I wont even stoop the level of these people responding becuase as I learned along time ago in my life. "you never get in an argument with an idiot, becuase they will bring you to their level and beat you with expereince!"


    October 11, 2008 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  17. Linda K.

    Mr. Lewis should know. He lived through some of the worst of it. McCain had better stop acting offended and start listening. And he really needs to rein in his running mate. They must stop before things go too far.

    October 11, 2008 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  18. tom

    For months, I've been reading wacky postings of rumors about Obama. And I think most of the wackiness is based on fear.

    I further think that underneath all of this fear is the simple fact that he is black. And given that fear, there is a desire to accept all the rumors that are circulating on the web as fact. So the fear generates its own ignorance.

    And watching McCain's rally yesterday shows how this fear and ignorance metastisizes into hysteria. I can now understand how Hitler was able to have the German populace commit despicable acts against the Jews.

    I think and hope and pray that Obama will win. Finally we'll have an intelligent thoughtul person in the white house. Isn't that a good thing? If we had had an intelligent thoughtful president over the past 8 years do you think we'd be in the mess we are now?

    October 11, 2008 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  19. Julie in NC

    I've been saying to my husband that it would be racism that would bring down the McCain/Palin ticket – be it Sarah Palin discreetly wiping her hand on her dress after shaking the hand of a black constituent or pulling her purse closer around a black Secret Service agent, something was bound to give. But seeing some of her responses (and McCain's except for the one lady yesterday for the sound byte purpose) is validating what I thought all along. It saddens me so.

    In no way should Obama repudiate Lewis. He certainly does not appear to be lying or taking direct shots at the candidate; rather they are shots at the tone the campaign has taken. The important thing missing from John McCain is the integrity he used to have....

    October 11, 2008 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  20. pat C.

    thank you and NO apoligy!. she should be investigated by obama's secret service team. she is starting a riot where ignorant people are screaming out kill him. this is a hate crime and palin should be stopped in her tracks.

    October 11, 2008 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  21. plain jane

    Tell John Lewis and tell the Secret Service to listen to the crowd at Obama's PA rally today. They yelled out KILL HIM and SHOOT HIM about McCAin, and Obama just stood there. If you dont post this, at least report it to the authorities. Listen to the first of the video when Obama was talking about McCain...they crowd yelled Kill Him and Shoot Him!!! I heard it live on C-Span and in CNN's replay and the reporters didnt say anything Either!!!

    October 11, 2008 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |

    First McKeating5 has his lip stick wearing pet sow fire up the crowd but cannot confront Obama in person.

    Now, he cannot face Lewis himself but whines for Obama to intercede on his cowardly behalf.

    What happened to those McNuggets mister?

    October 11, 2008 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  23. RA

    McCain/Palin are way off course and have lost control of what their supporters are saying. It is treading into dangerous territory. Mind Boggling how the decent man like McCain has degenerated into this ugly man.

    October 11, 2008 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  24. Jacqueline

    I agree with Congressman Lewis' comments 100%. Senator McCain, Gov. Palin and the GOP (to include Fox News) are behaving very irresponsibly. I must admit that Hillary played a part in it as well. I fear for the safety of Senator Obama and his family due to the these entities creating an atmosphere conducive to someone causing or attempting to harm the Senator and/or his family. Sarah Palin claims to be a Christian so she should know better. The GOP markets themselves as the party of "Family Values" Is inciting hatred, violence, intolerance and ignorance family values?

    October 11, 2008 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  25. Independent Long Islander

    McCain still doesn't get it... He's so "out of touch" that he cannot understand how the hatred that he and Palin are inciting can lead to violence. And he wants to be the next president?

    October 11, 2008 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
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