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. Dante

    Obama supporters will not and should not stop pushing the mainstream media to demand that John McCain and Sarah Palin acknowledge that it is WRONG for their supporters to yell "Kill him!"

    If John McCain and Sarah Palin cannot acknowledge that it is wrong for their supporters to say such a thing, they are effectively condoning the murder of a U.S. Senator and should be held as accessories to any violent crimes that may happen to Senator Barack Obama as a result of their unwillingness to speak out against such violent, despicable acts.

    October 11, 2008 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  2. Steve in Atlanta

    McCain has made a serious mistake choosing Palin & it will come back to haunt him Nov. 4

    How can someone who believes in a superstitious view of our world lead our country to restoring its prominence in the sciences? What moral or ethical right does Palin have to condemn Obama's former pastor when she has received prayers from a minister to protect her from demons & witchcraft? Even winking, how can she say that she has sound executive experience when she approved building the Wasila sports complex on land the town didn't even own yet?

    How can McCain say with a straight face that he will reach across the aisles to govern and spew the vitriol we have seen this week?

    Obama-Biden 08

    October 11, 2008 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  3. Tough Lady, NC

    What a disgrace McCain-Palin have become. I grew up in the South during the Jim Crow era and they are trying to take us back. They are dividing this country and they know exactly what they are doing. I only hope and Pray we have enough intelligent people that know what they are doing. Palin should realize this is the Lower 48 and we respect each other. No matter what race or ethnic group we are the economy is hurting all of us. My neighbor just told me this morning he is losing his banking job. People are hurting and they have no solutions to the problem, but would rather divide us. Independent for Obama-Biden.

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

    YESSSSSSSS I totally agree with Lewis. I was blown away by the ignorance of the outbursts at McCain's rally. The way they talk about Obama as if he is "one" of them? How can it be McCain? How can it be that we are in this situation? How can it be that a black man has one up on us? This isn't supposed to happen McCain, fix it! That's what i heard in the comments from his followers. I almost smashed my computer trying to listen to Palin the other day. Its disgusting. I think what they are doing is speaking in code. They are making comments that are not specific but ring in the ears of the ignorant. McCain is just pissed that he has been called out on it. He
    thinks he has been clever. I hate that now Obama will be pinned as a black panther if he doesn't speak out against Lewis. Also if he does speak out than he has to turn his back on the people that are telling the truth. I feel bad for Obama. Not an easy line to walk.

    October 11, 2008 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  5. Tired of Media

    Rep. Lewis has earned the right to speak out on this topic. Nothing he said was untrue. The fact of the matter is that John McCain wants to change the conversation as he feels it should suit him.

    Stop with the fake outrage because nothing in his comments are false – McCain and Palin are getting a free ride and they know it:

    October 11, 2008 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  6. Traci Erickson

    Comments are moderated by CNN, in accordance with the CNN Comment Policy, and may not appear on this blog until they have been reviewed and deemed appropriate for posting. Also, due to the volume of comments we receive, not all comments will be posted.
    Obviously and unbelievable that you cant post both sides

    October 11, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  7. Ray, Calif

    Wow I'm shocked? I wonder if Obama will now tell his supporters to treat John McCain with RESPECT? What is good for the goose is good for the gander? Lets see if Obama really wants unity? Or does Obama just wants to give speeches?

    October 11, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  8. Ed McDuffie

    Well!!! McCain or any of his storm troopers read the remarks from above take the hint and go home because that is where we are sending you.

    October 11, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  9. Christina

    Mr Lewis,
    I've planned on naming my future child John Lewis for many years. You just gave me yet another reason to tell him why. Thank you for everything!

    October 11, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  10. Chuck, WA

    Thank you, Rep. Lewis, for stepping. You know better. Hate is not constructive but rather destroys. May you live long to continue to do what you do.

    October 11, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  11. NormK

    Someone finally stood up and popped John the bully in the nose and he runs away crying. Way to go Congressman Lewis!!!!

    The McCain campaign has been fanning the flames of hated and can't win unless he does so. He can't stand on his own record and in fact can't stand without his nurse Cindy.

    October 11, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  12. 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 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  13. ba-Rock says

    Uh...Johnny, Congressman Lewis got this one right home skillet.

    October 11, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  14. Judy Zukoski, Barnesville, PA

    From what I've read of some of McCain's and Palin's rallies, Cong. Lewis' remarks are right on target. We don't hear anyone in the audience at Obama's or Biden's rallies yelling out "terrorist" or "kill him/her" in reference to McCain or Palin, do we? The fact that McCain and Palin are creating this kind of potentially violent atmosphere with their allegations is despicable.

    Good for you, Congressman Lewis, for calling it as it is!

    October 11, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  15. Stormin Norman

    Wait a sec here. I am a Republican Obama backer who does NOT think McCain is at fault here. Watch the videos. The angry Republicans have been provoked by the Republican party but not John McCain. Senator McCain told them they were out of line, that an Obama presidency would take their nation in what they think is the wrong direction but that the country will still be the great country it is. These people are more pissed at McCain at this point because they have bought into all the fear the Republican PACs have been spreading (I get the emails). They feel he has let him down. Remember, these people were angrily speaking TO JOHN MCCAIN. Making statements about the angry Republicans, and its reminders to those who were on the wrong side of the George Wallace rhetoric, is okey. Somehow blaming Senator McCain is not.

    October 11, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  16. Mark

    McCain can't handle the truth!

    October 11, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  17. Bill, BN

    . . . Someone has to say it.

    October 11, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  18. Beyond the Pale... afraid not.

    "Beyond the pale?" No. Accurate? Yes. McCain, YOU need to repudiate the type of campaign you are running and the behavior of some of your supporters. Failure to do would be both unpatriotic and dishonorable. Your father is rolling over in his grave.

    October 11, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  19. Chris from NY

    What a crock. McCain has been dishing this stuff out for over a week and now wants Obama to repudiate Congessman Lewis for the same thing they've been doing. McCain should have repudiated his staff yesterday afternoon after they attacked Obama for pointing out same thing he did yesterday evening. McCain should make up his mind which way he wants to go:negative or positive. But he can't have both ways.

    October 11, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  20. Betrina

    Show your disgust and frustration at the polls on Election Day next month. Some people in America realize that the voice is mightier than the sword. If you want to cut down McCain and Palin, voice your opinion at the ballot box and let them see the effect of their deeds.

    For all the believers in a higher power, please read in the book of
    2 Timothy, Chapter 3 – Perilous Times and Perilous Men.

    We are going to make it, (brothers and sisters of all colors, races and backgrounds), and the world will be a better place here in America once this race is over in November. Then we can start healing and get our economy moving so we all can go back to work and live out our lives hopefully in peace.

    October 11, 2008 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  21. Chris

    So Caribou Barbie incites the crowd, someone in that crowd yells "kill him"; then McCain asks "Who is Barack Obama", someone yells "terrorist", McCain doesn't immediately repudiate that comment and now HE's the one crying? Give me a break! The hatred towards Obama from the right is palpable. The right is the first is spout off how Christian they are, yet act very UN-Christian like. As a middle-aged white woman, I challenge anyone to start their crap towards me about my support for Senator Obama. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!!!

    October 11, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  22. mel

    So I guess the truce is over. Did it last an hour? Palin never stopped at all....but she has to have a week with the handlers before she can carry out a new speech.

    Lewis said what the media said. History has meaning and there is such a think as a crowd mentality, especially when they chant and scream "kill" and "terrorist". When we make "hate" and "race" and "religion" a part of the politcal platform we get Hitler, white supremist with bombs, and race riots in Selma and Watts. Can we all just get along and discuss this issues?

    Obama is not McCain's "boy" that you can order around to do your dirty work. If McCain's got a problem with Lewis, McCain needs to talk to Lewis and stop acting like the bully that just got hit by the kid he was picking on. This isn't a playground. This is our economy, our lives, our children's lives, our retirement. So far $700 billion didn't change the direction of the economy at all.

    McCain and Obama both need to discuss what their plan is to lead. I am positive it is the job description of the U.S. President. Tell us what you think needs to be corrected to move us out of this mess. What are your priorities? What is your plan to get our economy going again? What will you do if you are the president on day one. Give us an early inauguration speech today.

    October 11, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  23. Jeffrey

    Thank you, John Lewis!! At last someone has stepped up to the defense of Barack Obama in response to the lies and hatred spewed by McCain/Palin & Co.

    I have been wondering where all the Democrats have been hiding while McCain dishes his dirt. No wonder the Dems are often considered "wimpy". It's about time someone stepped up and called McCain's tactic for what they are...foul & incendiary.

    America is putting on quite a show of "democracy" for the rest of the world. "Kill him! Terrorist! Arab! Traitor!" Make no mistake, this is all inspired by the McCain campaign.

    October 11, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  24. Voice of Reason

    You know what's "beyond the pale"? The McCain campaign's implications regarding Barack Obama and William Ayers, that's "beyond the pale".

    October 11, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  25. South African for OBAMA

    >>>McCain can do something to improve his stature greatly by
    issuing the following statament:

    "If the only reason you are voting for me is because my opponent
    is a black, then I do NOT want your vote.">>>>>

    Now that would be something, action speaks louder than words, and I doubt McCain can risk doing that..although it will speak volumes if he does

    October 11, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
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