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. Kevin, Rockford IL

    NO! What's shocking is that John McCain and Sarah Palin did NOT repudiate their supporters when they were standing there, SMILING as they shouted out to kill Barack Obama! JOHN McCAIN, you have your Never! You are a piece of Trash!

    October 11, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  2. H in San Jose

    McCain continues to show that he is unfit for leadership. With ridiculous rhetoric like this at such a tenuous point in our country's life, how dare he attempt to throw this back at his opponent. The moment he or his handlers heard phrases like "Kill him!" and "terrorist" thrown out from the crowds was a critical opportunity to proves his leadership skills. And he continues to fail at grasping these opportunities.

    It is very sad to see him dishonor himself and all that have stood by him in all of this.

    October 11, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  3. Anthony Caudill

    Lewis said nothing about race and everything about radical violence with those words. Hate is intolerable in anyone, and especially intolerable in a presidential campaign.

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

    I do not believe that Obama should apologize to McCain. McCain has let the Genie out of the Bottle with his/Palins hate speech.
    When a United States Senator and a Gov. of one of our States stands before and crowd shouting, "kill him", "bomb him", "terrorists" and says nothing, not a word, he deserves to be called out on it.

    I have no sympathy for McCain, he has lost all honor..

    October 11, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  5. Kurt

    If it looks like a duck, it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, then it is either John McCain or Sarah Palin.

    October 11, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  6. lamin

    I think all American should work together as one nation one people,we are living in the 21century the days of recism are gone.

    October 11, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  7. dennis from AKRON


    October 11, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  8. tee tx

    Republicans = Party of Hate. McCan't has no right to demand or expect an apology after his hate-mongering, inciteful rallies. Your campaign can't shout "terrorist" and claim Obama is different than us and then act like their actions have been innocent and respectful. Reap what you sow, old man.

    October 11, 2008 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  9. mitch

    why should he repudiate the truth? the truth will set you free, john. you need to stop the lying and the hate and the greed in ur party, john. you should not have chosen a right-wing zealot as a vp. either. she makes moosealini look tame.

    October 11, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  10. donna

    Since Senator Obama was not in active politics when Gov Wallace was making his statements ,Senator Obama is not in any position to confirm or reject Rep Lewis' statements.
    It is a judgment made by someone who has experienced both circumstances.

    October 11, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  11. jurgen

    John Lewis is right, and Obama should not have to respond at all. The speeches Palin has given are a disgrace to this country.

    October 11, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  12. billy

    John Lewis, you are a race baiter!

    October 11, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  13. BKB

    These racists are not isolated. I hear everyday from white peoplle over 50 who "jjust donn't like Obama". No reason.. they just don't like him. When you don't name the source of a policy that they like these same citizens would choose Obama over McCain. I am sure that the party that gave us Williie Horton knows his and is using to its best advantage.

    Hopefully Americans will vote for their own interests and vote out the party that has controlled both houses of congress for the last 12 of 14 years and he whitehouse for the last 8.

    He's black it won't rub off on you. vote your pocket book and not your hatred.

    October 11, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  14. ron green

    John Lewis is right this nothing but hate and thre aresome blacks sitting theregoing along with this where are they from not the real black community. I pry for america that noting happen toObama.
    I think O bama care too much for the the us and thelove is not there
    because he is black . I hope race don't decide this race for the white house this will show blacks where we really stand in the american dream.

    October 11, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  15. lou

    I do not think Mccain or palin have made any disgraceful remarks at all. Not sure where this is coming from?
    They have said facts.
    They have never said anything racist.

    You know, they could talk about Obamas church, and how they do not like white people. BUT they have not.

    I think ya'll should calm down.
    I think you all are paranoid

    October 11, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  16. Farmer Joe

    We need to stop and think about what we are doing and saying. I feel the each and everyone of us wants what is best for our country. We may not agree on what we think is best or the right choice but that is what makes us stand on top of the world.

    You all talk about he is this and she is that and he said this and she said that. They are a terrorist or they are starting probles trying to divede us all.

    As a farmer i do know a few things. Both are correct and both are wrong and both have good plans and both have bad ones. But most important is if someone plants a seed (hate) it can only grow if we feed it everyday.

    It would be nice to see someone run for office and do it with dignity and open truth and straight forward answers to the questions.

    may GOD have mercy on us and watch over us ALL.

    October 11, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  17. charles nichols

    Some of those despicable comments came at a campaign event here in Minnesota. I am ashamed. McCain needs to step up and repudiate those comments and further, apologize to Obama. For those who keep saying this isn't about race......wake up.

    October 11, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  18. Mashawnda Dowell in NC

    What Lewis has stated is true, so why should Obama apologize. On Friday you tell a few supporters to calm down...and then you ask Obama to ask his supporter to apologize...wow. Its as if you did not even mean what you said to your supporters without asking Obama to do something.

    How fake.

    McCain is handling matters more like a secretary and not a man that wants to be POTUS. WE have MAJOR issues going on...and you have McCain putting out little fires here and there...and Palin scapping where she can...dumb and dumber.

    I am deeply turned off by politics by McCain and Palin.

    I feel as though their type of politics will die after this election

    RIP Politics without substance...

    October 11, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  19. donna

    Since Senator Obama was not in active politics when Gov Wallace was making his statements ,Senator Obama is not in any position to confirm or reject Rep Lewis' statements.
    It is a judgment made by someone who has experienced both circumstances.

    October 11, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  20. Jim from Seattle

    I've read every one of these posts, and not one of them gets it. Yesterday, two more U.S. banks were taken over by the Fed. McCain is trying to latch onto anything he can as a distraction, like a man in free-fall desperately grasping for a branch. And all of you posters are allowing yourselves to be distracted by becoming irate over this latest flap. Look how much time and energy you've put into berating McCain and Palin for their hate-filled rallies, while the whole time our country, as we know it, is going into the crapper. McCain is a victim of circumstances, and those circumstances have conspired to make him and Palin irrelevant. Does anyone really believe for one moment that McCain himself actually picked Palin for his running mate, a woman he met briefly only twice? She was forced on him by the right wing of his party as the a last ditch effort to solidify the hardcore conservative base, and it was believed, naively, to capture the disaffected Hillary voters. Instead, Palin has driven away not only the independents but many long-time moderate Republicans. McCain is nothing more than a tool of the hard right who, if he were to win, would be the ones pulling the strings. As for Palin, they used in the most cynical way; and once they've lost, they'll throw her under the bus. You might almost feel sorry for her, except that in her own cynical, manipulative way, she's used them too; for she has now gained a level of national recognition and notoriety she never could have imagined in her wildest dreams. So, stay focused on the prize people. It's only three weeks away. Don't be distracted by the theater of the absurd.

    October 11, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  21. Citizen

    The example that Lewis gave was spot on, because McCain even realizes that he and Palin may have went to far.

    October 11, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  22. Jerome

    AMAZING....if this isn't the pot calling the kettle black.

    PALIN/McCain having been spewing hate, telling lies and turning up the negative column and they are now reacting to a truth that has been spoken.

    Please for the sake of the planet....call it quits and both take up residence in Alaska were you can keep an eye on the Russians from Palin's stoop.

    October 11, 2008 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  23. Fru, MPLS

    Thank you for saying the truth Mr. Lewis! Obama should not apologize for nothing. Palin and McCain knew what they were doing

    October 11, 2008 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  24. TheOtherFoot

    So now McCain's feelings are hurt. Boo hoo. Look how long he and his nurse S. Palin has been riling up the crowds so much so that they are making voilent threats. I guess McCain don't expect McSame.

    October 11, 2008 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  25. barbara williams

    i am a long time Alaskan. One bright side to this deplorable M/P rehetoric is that when "Sara Stupid" returns to Alaska, she will quickly discover how embarrsed we all are by her tacky, phony, girl next door false image. this woman is an extremist and a perfect example of "what you see is not what you get." Alaskans have had their eyes opened, big time!

    October 11, 2008 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
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