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. lovin' obama/biden '08

    McCain/Palin........can't wait to send them back home after the election! They scare me!

    October 11, 2008 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  2. Blevins

    For weeks the McCain-Palin campaign has been fanning the fires of hatred; it is about time someone calls them out on it.

    Since they want to make a big deal about Obama sitting on a board in which another member was someone who happened to be a terrorist decades ago and Rev. Wright, why don't we make a big deal about the fact that Palin's husband was a member of the Alaskan Independence Party...a known secessionist group in which their founder had nothing nice to say about America. How dare they question someone's patriotism.

    October 11, 2008 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  3. Mrs. Texas Teacher

    Okay.... I'm McDizzy with trying to figure out what so many Americans cannot see through about this Republican rhetoric that we hear every four years. It just gets more and more evil in its lack of concern for human dignity.

    I'm too McSick to add anymore of comments. (sighing...she will go lie down with some additional meds and let this flu run its course.... the McShame of McRepugnatRepublicans will have to take care of itself for a time!... she must get away from the madding crowd for at least a span of time... but do not FEAR..... she SHALL return!)

    October 11, 2008 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  4. Thompson . A

    We should have seen this coming long ago when Sarah Palin began a parsonal attark on Obama. The Repub. VP nominee called Obama some very unpleasant names which has endedup inciting the people along racial lines. I Think Palin needs to grow up she speaks without prudence and that is dangerous for the while house if such a person is elected.

    October 11, 2008 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  5. Linda

    Senator McCain I am a 64 year old woman and I am very afraid of what is being allowed by Sarah Palin.. and rightfully so. With the "hate" and "fear" tactics she is using towards Senator Obama, she is creating a dangerous mob atmosphere. If you have not taken time to really listen to her.. you really should. What seems like simple campaigning is so awful that she has succeeded in working people into a dangerous "near mob situation" where they will even say "kill him". God forbid that anybody winds up being hurt or murdered because of her words. I know that you would never want anything like this to happen.. but it could if it is allowed to continue.

    October 11, 2008 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  6. felicha







    October 11, 2008 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  7. Belle2

    Yep, it is all about race. If you are not committed to voting for Obama, you are racist. The media-led campaign continues.

    October 11, 2008 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  8. Lisa Q

    I couldn't agree with John Lewis more...thank you for calling it like it is.

    October 11, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  9. Robert from New Jersey

    I watched clips of those rallies on TV with horror, wondering when the torches and pitchforks would appear. Rep. Lewis spoke the truth and Sen. Obama has no need to repudiate his statement. I also saw the clips of McCain telling a woman Obama was not an arab and a decent human being, and saying that you don't have to fear an Obama presidency. For a while I thought he had realized what his campaign was doing and would finally put common decency ahead of winning, but today I see it didn't last very long.

    October 11, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  10. POW=PTS

    Why doesn't Clarence Thomas give Johnnie boy and Caribou Barbie a jingle and tell them that he's a BLACK REPUBLICAN AND THIS CRAP STINKS. Also, to the nice lady from the "Burgh" with the mother-in-law from Erie, once you get outside of Erie and all the way down to Elk County, they have the largest area of the KKK in America. No fooling, and they are proud of it. There is a hotel on Rt. 6 in a town called Youngsville, PA with racist remarks on it all the time. Since he owns the land the sign is on, he can say whatever he likes; is what I have been told. And this guy is on the Chamber of Commerce. That whole are is just plain GROSS.

    October 11, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  11. Christine

    Dear John,

    Your V.P. pick has winkingly 'suggested' hate and then smugly stood by, nodding along, while the audience runs with it.

    You're shocked that America is confronting you on this?

    – Christine

    October 11, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  12. Karen

    McCain represents the past. Obama represents the future and his message for change is not just about economic and government change. It is more importantly about ideology change and not forcing your ideals on someone else. It is about all of us coming together as Americans in this country–white, black, hispanic, oriental, etc., not to mention the different religious preferences in this nation. It is about respecting others differences in this country. We are our brothers keepers. America is a melting pot with many different races and cultures and it is about time we started respecting and being tolerant of those differences with fair and equal treatment for all. This is the change Obama speaks to and this change will make America stronger, not weaker.

    We don't need what McCain stands for in this country. We want to go forward, not backward.

    October 11, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  13. Ckaye

    I have to agree with Mr. Lewis and I'm glad he spoke up about it. I listened to Palin/McCain soundbites a few days ago and yes, they were espousing blind hatred of Obama, and obliquely Black people, period. They did or said NOTHING to curb the vitriolic ravers in the crowd.

    Palin especially goes beyond the pale, though I'm starting the feel that she is going to be "curbed" shortly. The woman, to put it nicely, is not ready for Big Time politics and I strongly doubt she ever will be.

    October 11, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  14. M. Felder

    No, Senator McCain, you need to stand before the American people and offer us an apology. Your campaign has been fanning the flame of all that is bad about this country and offering a platform for one of the worst terrorist group in this country (KKK). If you are unable to see that, then you don't deserve to be the president of the US.

    October 11, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  15. marina

    the difference?

    The attacks on Obama are the baseless ones, while Lewis' comments on the McCain campaign are true. McCain is fanning the flames of angry whites with hatred and xenophobia.

    October 11, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  16. Linda, Chesapeake, VA

    Here we go again... Shock and awe!

    McCain camp acknowledged that they were going negative, then did so – now the reaction is negative, what more can they say. You reap what you sow, McCain/Palin. I agree with Lewis, and thank him for standing up for ALL Americans; his comments has helped to put an end to this very dangerous path McCain was travelling.

    October 11, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  17. nate d.c.

    Ummm. Hasn't McCain and Palin basically been saying that Obama supports terrorists? What goes around comes around McCain!!

    October 11, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  18. Owanemi Iyalla

    Quite frankly I have watched the attitudes of people towards Obama at McCain/Palin rallies and I think Lewis is right on point.

    October 11, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  19. judith Kristen

    ABOUT TIME someone with a public forum came forth and said it outloud..... McCain and campaign,, especially Palin can dish it, but oh my my when it is turned on them to take responsibility for what their campaign and they have said themselves... oh crying foul.... well the only FOUL is the smell coming from the McCain/Palin campaign....

    Kudos to John Lewis for standing up and saying what everyone else has been thinking and no one in politics has had the guts to say...... and McCain promised to have a clean campaign... well,,,, he gets what he gets and deserves every word.... he lied about the clean campaigning,,,,maybe it is time he realized that he is NOT ENTITILED to the presidency and get out of the kitchen,,,, obviously it is too hot for him....

    Thank you John Lewis.........


    October 11, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  20. Barbara

    I am sorry that John McCain, who use to be honorable person, had fallen to the level of Palin and friends. As to the fact that Plain has the "ability to connect" with people, there are horrible examples of very popular leaders in the history who incited hatred (in Germany for example in the 30s).

    October 11, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  21. john s arizona for obama - it's possible!

    the truth hurts – and it hurts us all. i invite John McCain to quietly end his political career and salvage his legacy and what dignity he can muster. Arizonas populous has changed and it's still not too late for Arizona to go to Obama. bringing in the simple Fact that ALL the mainstream polls are taken ONLY on landlines! how many reader/bloggers/viewers Voters under the age of 35 do you know who has a landline? let's factor that in to the polls.

    October 11, 2008 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  22. Lynda42

    I completely agree with Rep. Lewis. The rhetoric of Palin/McCain is very disturbing. And the ads being run by the Republicans are sinister character attacks and appeal to the twisted minds of the wackos out there. I also fear what these dangerous attacks may lead to. Barack Obama must not apologize or repudiate the remarks of Rep. Lewis. I am a white woman and remember the atrocities of the extreme white terrorists during the civil rights era. Palin/McCain are refueling the flames of that bygone era. There are still domestic ,racist terrorists in this country and McCain/Palin are giving them encouragement. I am very disappointed in McCain. Sarah Palin calls herself a Christian, but I seriously doubt that Jesus would approve of her deceptive rabble rousing.

    October 11, 2008 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  23. Beverly

    McCain/Palin got caught and not they are crying for an apology for something that they started. Give me a break. This is beyound pathetic.

    October 11, 2008 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  24. Belle2

    No one has asked Obama to repudiate all the hate-filled comments on this site. Why is that?

    October 11, 2008 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  25. marie

    Lewis is telling the truth. People on my job are getting mad at each over some of the things that are being said, all because of McCain and Palin so we just dont talk politics at all we just work. Sad

    October 11, 2008 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
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