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. Tony



    October 11, 2008 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  2. aughhhh

    Lewis is absolutely right! McCain and Palin are inciting riots and mob mentality with their terrorist rhetoric. They should be ashamed of running such a campaign.

    October 11, 2008 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  3. WTH?

    Maybe John McCain and Sarah Palin ask themselves why someone would do this? Maybe because they are involving anger and hatred? The supporters at these rally's are screaming out "kill him"," Terrorist" etc...That isn't exactly words of respect.
    I do have to say, McCain showed a sense of bravery and decensy when he called for calm with his supporter and corrected the ignorant.

    October 11, 2008 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  4. Peter

    Does John Lewis think that Obama can not be challenged because he is black? It appears so. Didn't the black community pull this same tactic on Hillary and Bill Clinton in South Carolina?

    October 11, 2008 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  5. Moral Conservative

    Lewis is 100% correct. I'm sad for the Replublican Party today... That is why I'm going to vote Obama/Biden 08, and if the Replublicans dont clean up a LOT MORE I will also be voting Obama/Biden '12

    This is sick! Grow up USA!


    October 11, 2008 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  6. Phil

    John Lewis is right. McCain himself even tried to stop the craziness going on with the ultra conservatives. They are hateful and un-american, and its far past the time to stop this. Sarah Palin is dangerous, and should be stopped. Hate and fear lead the Fascists rise to power in Europe in the 1930's, and we don't need to go down that road again

    October 11, 2008 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  7. Bill

    With people calling out that Obama is a "terrorist" and, more ominously, "kill him" during Palin rallies I believe that Congressman John Lewis' comparisons to George Wallace rallies where this type of hate talk was spewed.
    If McCain and Palin do not agree with their audience members why did they not denounce them when these hateful remarks were made?

    October 11, 2008 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  8. Tell Us Anything

    Isn't John Lewis the guy that McCain identified as one of his KEY TOP 3 advisors during the Saddleback Forum?

    Why doesn't John McCain call John Lewis himself?

    Just because Lewis is black doesn't make it Obama's responsibility to call him.

    Sounds like McCain was just blowing the usual smoke when he cited that he and John Lewis were confidants.

    October 11, 2008 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    No. McCain's and especially Palin's rallies are getting more and more dangerously hate-filled. All Americans – including Republicans – need to watch carefully as the bigots, xenophobes and fascists come out of the closet and demonstrate their ANTI-AMERICAN sentiments.

    October 11, 2008 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  10. j long

    I've seen the behavior at a Palin rally and Rep. Lewis is dead on. McCain may not have intended this but he should have not allowed his campaign to get to this point.

    October 11, 2008 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  11. Tony



    October 11, 2008 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  12. slc in ny

    John Lewis is the man who said it, let him retract his own statement. Congressman Lewis knows what he is talking about, he experienced the tone of hatred and prejudice and racism. If it hurts you McCain, then it should, because you have sown seeds of discord in this election along with your unethical VP pick Sarah Palin. (I do acknowledge McCain correcting a supporter and he should have, he sowed the seed.)

    October 11, 2008 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  13. cecil

    Oh And Saying Sen. Obama Is "Palling Around" With Terrorist Is Ok!

    October 11, 2008 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  14. NC goes blue

    McCain's base has displayed what the concensus of America sees as hate and anger that has crossed the line of normal campaign rhetoric. Multiple attacks against Obama's heritage and safety have been caught on video. There is no denying the behavior McCain is stoking at his rallies.

    John Lewis is absolutely correct in his statement. The Republicans have no moral ground to stand on whatsoever. They've given the conservative religious right the reputation of hate-mongers.

    October 11, 2008 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  15. Cathy Agu

    McCain is a fool. He should play back the tapes of his recent campigns with silly Palin and see the ville and wicked things including threats to Obama's life. It had to take CIA intervention to call his supporters to order. What a shameful campaign.

    October 11, 2008 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  16. Mark, B'ham., Al.

    Lewis sounds like a Liberal Lefty talking on the Daily Kos, Hufington Report, or MoveOn.org. He is injecting racism into the campaign as one of Obama's surrogates.

    October 11, 2008 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  17. Jeff

    Typical – McCain cant see beyond his own actions. All week both McCain and Palian have been creating an atmosphere at their rallies that is not only scary but potentially could lead to violence. When someone calls them out on it they attack the person complaining – just like Bush has done for the last 8 years. America deserves better.

    October 11, 2008 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  18. Soccer Mom from Manhattan, NYC

    Obama should not repudiate! Someone needed to say this. When McCain supporters are shouting out things like "Bomb Obama" and "Let's kill him" people need to be reminded that similar past insitements of violence has resulted in the deaths of innocent Americans. Everyone who has been paying any attention to this race has learned about how violent McCain supporters have become. Why didn't McCain repudiate these comments? Why didn't he begin each of his recent rallies by first making the crowd aware that such behavior was unacceptable and would be rejected? He would have said nothing if Americans hadn't called for him to do so and if that ignorant statement about Obama being an Arab hadn't been made.

    October 11, 2008 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  19. Brad Hurt

    I agree with Rep. Lewis McCain and his pitbull are a disgrace to the american people who care about this country.

    October 11, 2008 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  20. idiots for McPalin

    The Mccain rallies are the beginnings of 1930's Germany. Too scary. I am scared to vote or put up an Obama sign with people like the Palin supporters who are so threatening.

    October 11, 2008 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  21. Tony

    John Mccain and Gov Palin ( Both Hubby and wifey). You reap what you sow. You did not condemn the chants from ur rallies until fellow republicans condemned it. They called Obama a terrorist because of what your ignorant VP said. and they also said KILL HIM, are you serious. and all Palin did was to wink and smirk.
    I am first an america who loves a peaceful society.

    This republican is 100% voting for Mr Obama and Mr Biden.

    Note: Leave his wife alone.

    October 11, 2008 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  22. NUNNYA


    October 11, 2008 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  23. Tim

    Right, angry white people are not acceptable today. Angry black people are always welcome at Obama's church.

    October 11, 2008 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  24. Foul Ball

    I knew this was coming...

    Obama should NOT apologize... Lewis was calling it as he – and MILLIONS OF OTHER AMERICANS – saw it!

    McCain/Palin should think a THOUSAND times before suggesting that their opponent 'pals around' with terrorists! Such statements are divisive, and DO promote HATE!

    The McCain campaign is the one that should be apologizing! McCain/Palin should apologize to Michelle, Malia, and Sasha!!! The hate that they've promoted is INEXCUSABLE!!!

    October 11, 2008 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  25. CR

    McCain said John Lewis was one of the three wisest people he knew.... so... what can you say.

    October 11, 2008 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
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