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. Pam

    Senator McCain, both you and Gov. Palin have done nothing in the last few weeks but spout incendiary remarks about Sen. Obama. Neither he nor Sen. Lewis need to apologize for the honest remarks made by Sen. Lewis. Both you, Senator McCain, and "she who abused her power as governor" Palin, are the ones who need to make amends. Shame on you!!

    October 11, 2008 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  2. lou

    It is disgusting the way the democratic campaign and democrat americans have treated McCain and Palin. You all should be ashamed of yourselves.

    October 11, 2008 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  3. Valerie Gillespie

    Take the initiative, close the door to fear. We all have fears. The question is, are we going to control them or allow then to control us? Inaction is not only the result, but the cause of fear. The longer we let things slide the harder they become. Anyone who doesn,t take initiative is guaranteed to fail. It is time to get rid of racism and see people as they are. Thank you Congressman Lewis for taking the initiative, McCain and Palin should be repudiated ...............not Obama............ I honestly believe Mr. McCain is loosing his bearings. If this campaign has caused him to loose his mind............. think about him being the President.

    October 11, 2008 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  4. E

    How about McCain offer an apology for Palin saying Obama pals around with terrorists, or he speaks up when his supporters repeatedly say all muslims are terrorists, or put out pictures of Obama looking like a monkey. I don't see him putting out even a whisper denying the outright lies that travel out there about Obama.

    hypocritical much?

    October 11, 2008 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    Lewis is an idiot who can only see things in racial terms.

    October 11, 2008 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  6. Barbara - 65 yr old white female in NC

    Send The Pitbull packing back to Alaska for Impeachment, and where she can hurt a MAX of 600,000 people.

    Do NOT keep here down here where millions of people's lives are at risk of her hypocritical racism.

    October 11, 2008 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  7. Vincent

    Unfortunately, Rep. Lewis said what America was thinking during the Palin rally. Growing up in Birmingham, AL, I also, recognize the tone of hatred when it's inferred.

    October 11, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  8. Cathy from Colorado

    Let's set the record straight, John.

    Mr. Lewis is addressing your and your sidekicks hateful and inflammatory speeches–"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.

    If anyone should apologize, it should be you and your campaign, and not just to Mr. Obama, but to all the citizens of the USA!

    You and Palin are a disgrace.

    October 11, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  9. Nola

    Senator McCain – take responsibility for the actions of your VP- Congressman Lewis should not have had to address the problem – you should have never allowed it to occurred. So stop whinning and campaign in a responsible manner

    October 11, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  10. nate

    McCains poll #'s have dropped since they went negative. Another great move by Steve Schmidt. Karl Rove you aint buddy.

    October 11, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |

    The hate mongering from the McCain campaign is deplorable. My fear is that some "inspired" racist out of some twisted sense of patriotism will do to Obama what was done to , Bobby and John Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. This is serious and McCain/Palin need to ameliorate thier supporters, not encourage the extremist racists and bigots in their party.

    October 11, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    Shame on you McCain trying to turn the tables. John Lewis is on point.

    October 11, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  13. Thomas

    The McCain / Palin campaign has lost touch with reality .
    It's as if there taking Rush Limbaugh's non proscribed Narcotics.

    Randy Scheunemann was the President of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq,
    which was created by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC),

    $ JOHN McCAIN $
    ? ? ?

    October 11, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  14. Arizona Demo

    I watched the recent Sara Palin rally and I can tell you she hasn't toned down her comments. So, I have no problem with what John Lewis is saying. He is basically putting to words what a majority of us are thinking. No apology to McCain needed.

    October 11, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  15. Tony

    McCain and Palin are putting themselves first, instead of country.
    All I have to say is if anything happens, or attempt to happen to Barack Obama, this country will be ripped apart. It will pale in comparission to what happened in the 60's.
    We will have a culture war, and put the country back 40 years.

    John Lewis is an honorable man, and John McCain, you have no honor, and Sarah Palin is unethical (and that has been determined by the Alaska Legislation).


    October 11, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  16. Karen i

    Palin has incited the crowds this entire week with the Ayers statements. Today she's not mentioning Ayers but only sticking to the issues I've heard .people scream KILL HIM, TERRIOST and Palin nor McCain said nothing to stop it. It wasn't until Friday when the report was coming out about Palin, that McCain decided to quiet down the crowds because McCain didn't want the Democratic Party going after Palin and her abuse of power in firing an innocent man. The Republican party wanted the report about Palin not to be an issue and if it became an issue, they would say "SEE MCcain denounce the racist remarks about Obama. I wonder if the report had come out positive about Palin would McCain have denounce the negavity because he didn't denounce it earlier it the week. Listen my fellow Americans, the Republican party is the most crafted party at trying to switch things in their favor.. BE WARE OF WOLVES IN SHEEP CLOTHING... McCain / Palin wear their coats very well but we are onto you McCain and HELL NO Obama should not repute Lewis because Lewis is right. McCain and Palin incited racism and brought back the 60's of the south. McCain/Palin put Obama's life even more in danger and showed no remorse. My fellow American's let's shouuld them we can come together as one. Obama/Biden '08

    October 11, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  17. Karen

    The rhetoric that John and Cindy McCain, the Palins, and the right -wing media (check out Sean Hannity's recent "documentary" about Obama!) continue to produce against Obama IS deplorable and shameful. Have any of you ever listened to the hate rhetoric about the Jews during WWII or the Tutsis in Rwanda? It's the SAME kind of fear inducing, incendiary language. The hate genie is out of the bottle, and it's going to take many people with courage, especially on the right-wing, Republican side, to say "Enough already! If we are going to fight, let's fight about the issues, not spread hate." It has to be a Republican, because these folks won't listen to a Democrat. And it needs to happen soon, because I'm afraid our country is veering down a dangerous path and people are going to get hurt.

    October 11, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  18. Ron

    McCain and Palin, and the entire Republican Party, have sown the seeds of hate, anger, injustice and greed in this nation. So eager is the McCain campaign to win, that they will stoop to the most heated and dangerous rhetoric....spouting applause lines that have now turned into (potentially) violence lines.

    Palin, as McCain's stand-in, was brought on board for this very reason, since clearly she had little else to add to the ticket. McCain's consultants realized he needed to trash Obama...but doing it directly would make him look like a hypocrite. Enter Ms. Palin, mindless proxy pit bull, whose speeches, if they were in German, would be eerily reminiscent of another person who once stirred the nationalistic lowest common denominator for purely partisan reasons.

    October 11, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  19. Thebe

    Oh fer cryin' out loud. McCain is truly a sleazebag and a disgrace. I'm embarrased to be a citizen of the USA with a national ticket of McCain/Palin.

    October 11, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  20. Miley

    McoCain unleashes simpleton Palin upon society and when anyone questions her intellect or ethics, we're sexist or biased.

    McAnger hypes up an esteemed U.S. Congressman as a dangerous terrorist threat, and goes into a state of shock when he is called on it.

    This man is either inherently stupid stupid or he thinks you are. . . neither option makes for a good U.S. president.

    October 11, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  21. bakersfield

    lets see if cnn will let a pro republican view thru
    i have been a dem all my life and i finally understand
    financial crises
    was not caused because of greed
    greed came because of social engineering
    social engineering came from the dems
    so now we have a mortgage issue that became a financial crises
    all because the dems wanted non qualifield people to be sold houses,
    with the house and the congress controled by the dems and if obama wins the white house, they will be in control of more social engineering we will see the another fall of our economy in about 10 years.

    October 11, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  22. SusanB - 63 yrs old - white - independent moderate

    Mr. Lewis is absolutely correct.

    McCain/Palin are spewing hate and inciting violence with their attacks.

    I hope Sen. Obama just ignores McCain's idiotic call for him to repudiate Lewis' remarks.


    Obama/Biden 08 !!!!

    October 11, 2008 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  23. AZVoter

    McCain and Palin have incited hatred, fanned the flames, and stood by while their supporters shout "terrorist" and "traitor".

    They have sown the wind; sadly, we shall all reap the whirlwind.

    October 11, 2008 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  24. Steve

    It's time for McCain to step down!

    October 11, 2008 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  25. Bulldog

    The democrats are running the most racist of all campaigns in U.S. History, virturally all black are voting democrat, wonder why , could it be thier voting color and color alone-answer yes Obama is not qualified, and has no judgment, to have judgment, one needs experience to base it on, obama has no experience. Obama is the one that attented the church of a hate filled pastor for 20 years, not John Mccain.

    October 11, 2008 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
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