October 11th, 2008
05:20 PM ET
11 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. Barack Obama IS Our 44th president !

    I am so happy Rep. John Lewis has spoken out against McCain and Palin's dispicable behavior of sowing hate-filled seeds. But there should be many more leaders speaking out against this ignorant and dangerous actions. The Secret Service should investigate this matter.

    Also, every American should reject McCain and Palin completely. Utilizing our voting power will definitely speak volumes against these dirty and nasty tactics !

    Obama-Biden in '08 ans 2012 !

    October 11, 2008 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  2. Julie from CA

    McCain & Palin looked the other way as insults were shouted and anger increased...The American people are not stupid Senator McCain. They know the strategies of the game...hey we learned from those who got us in the mess in the first place. Stick with the issues and provide realistic and acheivable solutions to the current crisis. Play the game with honor...or was that something you forgot about over the last 12 months.

    October 11, 2008 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  3. Bartholomew

    I don't see why Senator Obama needs to repudiate or apologize for remarks made by another person.

    Representative Lewis has been in politics a long time, and if he makes observations as he sees fit, well that's his prerogative.

    Only he can repudiate his own remarks, not Obama, so this is simply another ridiculous tactic by the McCain campaign to paint Obama with the "angry black man" brush.

    I'm heartened to see it isn't fooling anyone.

    October 11, 2008 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  4. ken r

    Should Obama renounce the actions of Bill Ayers? Yes he should. Should he distance himself from Rezko and Rev. Wright? Absolutely. Should Obama condemn the remarks of Rep. Lewis?

    No way!

    Sorry McCain, but this time the shoe fits. Your campaign is guilty as charged!

    If the shoe fits....wear it!

    October 11, 2008 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  5. Adrienne

    Well, i think John Lewis is right. Palin more then Mccain though is trying to froth up crowds to the point of getting Obama killed, imo. The Mccain camp crossed a line this week. I think they owe America an apology for the hate talk that has bled into their crowds. Palin and Mccain whip people up into a scary mob. Every one knows it. It's on film.

    October 11, 2008 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  6. Maggie from Virginia

    I'm one of those Americans that's afraid right now. I posted a couple days ago about my neighborhood. I live down the road from a community called confederate ridge. A confederate cemetary is nearby. There's a lot of support for Obama in this DC suburb but we keep our head down because there's still a lot of crazy racist around here.

    This makes it scary and hard to canvas for Obama. Do I now need to carry protection with me?

    October 11, 2008 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  7. Fed up with McCain

    McCain is the one that needs to apoligize. Instead of owning up to his campaign's deplorable attacks, he now turns his attacks on an innocent man who had the courage to call him out. McCain claims he is legitimately criticizing Obama's records and policies, however, he is fully aware of the hate he and Palin are inciting at his rallies. He should have made a statement after the crowds in Florida at a Palin rally started chanting "kill him". So it's totally acceptable for a crowd to call for the murder of your opponent while your VP pick smiles idly by and fans the flames, but a civil rights leader cannot simly point out the obvious and say that this behavior is divisive and hateful. I don't ever recall there being chants of "kill him" by voters during any other presidential campaign. I believe that McCain/Palin are fully aware that their fear tactics are encouraging hate and fear amongst many who already decided to vote against Obama simply because of his race. You betcha this is about race! Certainly no one is chanting "kill him" at any of Obama's rallies.

    October 11, 2008 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  8. White Woman in Appalacia

    If Obama comes out against what Mr. Lewis said I will loose some respect for him because Mr. Lewis was 100% correct.

    If some people can not see what McCain and Palin are doing then I feel sorry for them. In no way should Obama denounce the truth!

    Apparently calling someone a terrorist is not hate. Apparently allowing people to continue to speak his middle name in a way that implies he's "foreign" or "risky" is not hate either. I guess yelling "kill him" at their rallies isn't hate either. Where is the "denouncement" from the McCain campaign towards his own supporters???? Is he going to denounce himself and his running mate. That's what I'd like to hear.

    Incredible. These people make me sick. They are disgusting and their is no place in America for this type of hate. People like Lewis fought and many died speaking out against the sickness that McCain and Palin are now promoting.

    If McCain wins this election our country will be MUCH worse off for it in more ways than one.

    October 11, 2008 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  9. Where to go from here?

    US politics are not much difference from politics in the rest of the world. Whats interesting about McCains campaign strategy is its parrellels to the Raila Odinga campaign when he ran for President of Kenya last year. Both campaigns more or less promoted intolerance against their opposition.

    For Raila it was intolerance against the "evil" Kikuyu tribe. For McCain it is intolerance against the "distrustful" Barack HUSSEIN Obama (which McCain supporters convert into intolerance against "A-Rabs" and "Islamists"). What scary to me is the long-term effects of this sort of campaign. The emotions and thoughts that are stirred up will not just disappear on Nov 5th.

    October 11, 2008 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  10. Marge

    I don't understand. Someone explain. If you don't like obama and do not want him as a president and say so, why are the democrats having a fit about it.

    Is everybody in this country supposed to be politically correct and vote for obama because of his race. I am sick to death of them pushing it in our face.

    If you don't like a person's policies, race has nothing to do with it. And if you have ever ever ever visited one of the democratic blogs and see the absolute hatred and lies and slurring they posted about Hillary and now McCain how can they possibly say anybody else is posting hatred. It really stinks. obama started the race baiting as a way to knock Hillary out of the campaign and now he is doing it with McCain.

    October 11, 2008 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  11. AJ in PA

    As an Independent, I have been following both sides in order to make up my mind about my vote. But when the McCain campaign started this type of attack against Obama, I felt literally sick to my stomach. Lewis was correct in pointing this out and it is McCain and Palin who need to apologize...both to Obama and his family, as well as to the American people who have grown past this type of divisive attacks. Put the Rove book away, McCain, and remember who you used to be.

    October 11, 2008 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  12. McCain-Palin are LIARS !

    Why in the world would Sen. Obama repudiate the TRUTH that Rep. John Lewis has stated.

    What McCain and Palin need to do is apology to Sen. Obama and ALL of the America people for their hate-filled remarks and for wasting time in this election, turning the page from the economy, and turning to their old stale and dirty politics of fear, hatred, and division !

    McCain-Palin's campaign is in the toilet. The question now is how will they exit – as someone who tried to focus on the economic wows with real solutions, or as someone who spent all of their time in negativity and divisions. I wonder which one will they choose.

    I truly hope everyone will turn the page on this old dirty stale politics, and choose a better path. It's time for the American people to get it right and NOT vote for McCain-Palin, instead vote for change. It's time for this country to turn the page and seek a new and better future for ourselves and our children.It's time for REAL change in Washington, it's time to elect Barack Obama for president !

    Obama-Biden are the wiser and stronger team to solve the crucial challenges we have in this nation and abroad !

    October 11, 2008 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  13. DHicks

    John McCain owns his supporters and he should be proud of them. If they are supporting him because of race hatred, he should be proud of that, too. We will have violence over the next few weeks, there has already been some reported, he should get credit for that as well.
    Country first? who are you trying to fool?

    October 11, 2008 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  14. catmom

    Is McCain serious? Please, after the last few weeks of Palin and McCain inciting the worst out of his supporters and he thinks someone should repudiate Mr. Lewis's comments. Talk about being out of touch. Perhaps McCain should look at tapes of some of his rallies. McCain coming out now trying to calm people down is a farce and disingenuous, especially since Palin continues to spew lies and garbage about Obama. They need to look in the mirror before they begin to talk about what someone else is doing.

    October 11, 2008 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  15. Winnie in Montana

    Amen to all of the people who have commented so insightfully here. Sen. Obama may, because he is a level-headed person, apologize for Rep. Lewis' comparison, but he certainly should not feel obligated to. Sen. McCain may not have started this, but other members of his campaign did, and he is ultimately responsible for their actions.

    Why haven't we heard anything kind from Sarah Palin? She is the one who began fanning these racist flames and stoking the anger and fear of her supporters. She is the one who should look a little deeper and see that her words have catered to the fear that some Americans feel, based on Sen. Obama's race and name. Unfortunately, these folks are incapable of doing a little research and finding out for themselves that Sen. Obama is not an Arab, a Muslim or a terrorist. They can't see past the color of his skin, he is white, too! It is sad that there are still people around who fear an educated, intelligent man because his is bi-racial. But Palin needs to not exploit this fear and hatred, it isn't Christian in the least and Jesus himself would hang his head and cry.

    Sarah Palin needs to apologize. She needs to call for her supporters to think reasonably and overcome their fear. McCain is a disgrace for allowing her free rein, but she is the true traitor.

    October 11, 2008 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  16. Audrey

    You know if anything hurtful or dangerous happens to Obama or his family, it will be the McCain/Palin campaign's fault.

    October 11, 2008 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  17. Independent in New York

    Sarah Palin is a dangerous lunatic. It is her outlandish behavior that has ruin Sen. John McCain's campaign. John Lewis is perfectly right. After all , who is more appropriate to identify these behaviors. There is anything that Sen. Obama should repudiate.

    October 11, 2008 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  18. hugh,lewisville,tx


    October 11, 2008 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  19. no joe 6pak

    What we now have is a candidate whose mental records history
    is permanently sealed and who is now endorced by the
    NRA. Pretty risky business!

    October 11, 2008 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  20. Marie

    The thing about this that gets me is that McCain & Palin are supposed to be Christians. If these actions they are encouraging are Christian, well, I have a bridge to sell you that goes nowhere. These are the most hateful disgusting people I have ever seen. I used to like John McCain even though I would not have voted for him in any case. But it seems that the moment he tied his campaign to Miss Alaska, the whole thing has gone down into the gutter. I predict a very ugly debate this Wednesday. It's his last chance.

    October 11, 2008 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  21. John B.

    It is about time someone with credibility called what has been going on what it is. The Nixonian attitude that " the ends justify the means" has got to be stopped before the healing the nation needs is set back decades by the rhetoric encouraged by the Senator McCain and his crowd,

    Only he can absolve himself of what he and his campaign have created. He and his crowd owe America an apology.

    Senator McCain is not the man I supported in 2002 in Michigan.As a veteran of 26+ years it is sad to witness one of my heros allowing such tactics in his quest to be the leader of the country.

    October 11, 2008 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  22. walters

    No way Obama repudiates Lewis, McCain the supposedly fit for commander in chief, could not even rein his own campaign including Sarah Palin for the hatered they spewed. Palin has been Hannitized two weeks prior by the cotton ball head radio host at Fox network. McCain harvested what he saw. Obama / Biden 08

    October 11, 2008 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  23. This is really Hillarious!!!!

    I would post my view point on this issue but since CNN Deletes all the Republican votes I won't bother.
    I always liked reading CNN on my computer everyday. But not any more. All you are doing by sensoring all the posts is trying to paint Obama into the white house and loosing all creditability with the American public in the process. Get a life. It won't work. The American people are too smart to fall for all your crap. Racism has nothing to do with it. This country was started by God faring Christian people and that is what the Democratic party is trying to corrupt. Have a nice day.

    October 11, 2008 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  24. GF

    The truth must be very "shocking" to a campaign who repeatedly avoids it.


    NO way, No, how, No McCain/Palin

    October 11, 2008 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  25. Tim in NC

    Up until that last rally where he put that old lady in her place, Mr.Lewis' comments were right on the money.

    Palin was encouraging it, and McCain was condoning it via his silence about the comments directed at Obama.

    When Palin repudiates her hate-filled rants, then Mr. Lewis may be called upon, fairly to rescind his comments.

    October 11, 2008 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
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