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. Ron from Louisville

    Why does Sen. Obama have to address anything? Congressman Lewis was right, let congressman Lewis answer to his own words. Obama needs not say a thing.

    October 11, 2008 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  2. Jack

    This is what happens when you sell your soul to the devil!!! John McCain is not John McCain the "maverick." He has no "fire in his belly" because he does not believe his plan because he has kowtowed to spew the fear mongering and lies of the Republican Party's plan. A complete lack of integrity and judgment. This is his last ditch effort to do to Barack what George Bush did to him in 2000.

    Please vote for hope for the future and not out of the fear mongering spewed by the Republican Party!!

    Obama-Biden all the way!!!

    October 11, 2008 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  3. O_Bender

    Is this Obama's and the democrats' chance to finally, meaningfully turn the tide and win more than a 51% mandate? Obama should consider going on the offensive just like Congressman Lewis and making clear the choice that any still undecided voters face: join the lynch mob McCain and Palin (and Bush and Cheney and Rove) have stirred up; or get on the side of mutual respect, tolerance and real democracy. I think McCain has gone far enough that there is nothing impolitic in pushing anyone still on the margin to recognize how far and to turn their backs on the Republican agenda of hate, division, distraction and corruption for good, so America can.

    October 11, 2008 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  4. Jacob

    John Lewis is right. Shame on you Mccain. I bet even you are scared of these crowds.

    October 11, 2008 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  5. Soldier Girl

    I am a football, volley ball, gynastic, drama, basketball and track Mom. I have held the children of Iraq. I am responsiblile for following orders which led to the bombing of innocent children, women and men in Iraq because they had oil, oil not WMDs. This is why some Soldiers suffer from PTSD. There can never be victory in Iraq. We were wrong to invade Iraq. I ask that McCain and Palin stop talking about a victory in Iraq. We have destroyed a country.

    October 11, 2008 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  6. Rhode Island for Obama - Biden

    It’s McCain, and ESPECIALLY Palin who should be apologizing- they brought this on themselves while THEY use disgusting and FALSE characterizations of Obama. When THEIR supporters, whether "hardworking Americans" or otherwise, say things like "kill him" at YOUR rallies. Take responsibility for igniting such violent language and climate. Those individuals should have IMMEDIATELY been swooped up from your events by the Secret Service and interrogated at a threat.

    Perplexed in Providence

    October 11, 2008 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  7. scot

    The opening of the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, states as follows:

    "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

    I am no Thomas Jefferson and I cannot say things as eloquently or as empowering but if Obama is elected, I will know that the statement “All men are created equal” will become a reality!

    October 11, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  8. Faye

    McCain believes that just because he spent one day out of the past week defending Obama, that he wasnt the one who started this nonsense. It is his supporteers who are spewing hatred, and congressman lewis is correct, it is the atmosphere that mccain has created. If something happens to obama it will be because of this hatred that is being stoked

    October 11, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  9. The Lady

    Why is Obama responsible for what John Lewis said, he is a grown man. These comments that John Lewis said are being made by serveral people so there must be some concern.

    October 11, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  10. Reality Check Richmond Virginia

    Lewis is correct.

    At least McCain finally showed some humanity yesterday, but the rest of his campaign is trash.

    October 11, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  11. Jim Corcoran

    I trust all of you supporting Obama are ready to practise the "goose step" since Fascism is not far behind if this dangerous individual is elected President. In addition it was Bill Clinton, Pelosi, Frank, and Dodd that are the cause of this economic crisis and they should be prosecuted for it! It makes me want to think about giving up my citizenship if this person is elected.

    October 11, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |

    Right is right folks,McPain is fueling this thing and there are some people in this world,that just can't imagine a black man running for President,I am a black man and I'm not voting for Obama because he's black,at first I didn't know who he was but I sat down and really listened to what he had to say,whats he said made sense to me,the issues we face need fixing,I think that anybody who thinks and votes because they aren't fully aware of the candidate,or votes because of the color of a man's skin is STUPID!!!!! I will be the first to say if Obama doesn't do what he says he's gonna do,then OUT he goes in four years,but at this point anything is better that McBushpalicain right now!!!!!!

    October 11, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  13. Kari

    Why is it that Obama does not have to take any responsibility for himself? How is it that it is okay to rediculously accuse Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin of " sowing the seeds of hatred and division" but not okay to expose Obama's shady past with an American terrorist?(Obama said Ayers was "rehabilitaded???Please...)
    How can so many people turn a blind eye to what is so obvious – Obama has disqualified himself for the Presidency – over and over – again with his choices of "Mentors".... has Rev. "G. D. America" Wright gone to "REHAB" too?

    October 11, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  14. barbara miller

    McCain: are you going to ask Obama to repudiate the various Republican comments as well? Last I looked, at least 4 Repub. leaders called you out on your actions as well. How about John Kerry? Is he not allowed to call you out on your low-road campaign? Once you start calling on Obama to repudiate, he'd have one heck of a lot of repudiating to do. When was the last time Obama asked YOU to repudiate things that have been said?

    October 11, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  15. Finley, Ohio

    A town hall meeting .. in ohio 80 years old White Lady from small town .. in her town There is no progressive talker right-wing talkers on radio all day. she ask obama a one question ?… she asked him Who Are You? Obama responded to.. I Am Your Son .don’t let them scare you” …
    .She definately had tears in her eyes .she is voting for obama..

    October 11, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  16. Missouri for Obama

    John Lewis hit the nail on the head with his statement. I don't think Obama needs to say anything on the behalf of McCain.

    Some of the comments being made from the crowd at McCain rallies is truly scary. I think this is something that needs to be handled with the highest amount of care. We are seeing the reactions of scared and desperate McCain supporters.

    It's not surprising that we are seeing these kind of reactions when the republican VP hopeful is accusing Obama of "palling around with terrorists". Fear of "an Obama presidency" has been pushed on these people since he accepted the Democratic party's nomination.

    Now with McCain's chances slimming his actions are backfiring on him. John McCain and Sarah Palin both have a responsibility to come forward and defuse this situation before it escalates.

    God bless.

    October 11, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  17. annie - never again a dem.

    Everybody know lewis is a screwball – if hussein's camp has to resort to the likes of lewis they are desperate.

    October 11, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  18. Phil from Dallas

    I don't understand why the Secret Service didn't arrest those people shouting "Kill Him" and "Off With His Head" about Senator Obama during the McCain rallies. There were probably lots of agents there on protection detail, and last time I heard, threatening the life of a member of congress was a crime.

    October 11, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  19. pauline

    What John McCain and Sarah Palin doing is feeding towards hate crime. Is presidency more important than solidarity of our Country. I never could have imagined that John McCain would become so selfish and unpatriotic as to resort to sow hate seeds by creating irrational fear among the beautiful people of this country. It is just opposite to his slogan " Country first" His negative ad. actually translates to " McCain first not Country'

    October 11, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  20. independent in Texas

    Obama owes McCain nor anyone an apology..Obama isnt the one who has been talking "terroist, kill him, bomb him, ", you McCaine and Palin are the ones who started all this..I agree, go back and look at your own soundbites and clips..watch Palins FACE as she delivers these speeches..SCARY...if you want this stopped before some one does get hurt, you McCain are the one who has to stop it..deont call on Obama whom y'all have slandered to do this for you..
    D,Bradshaw..texas for OBAMA

    October 11, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  21. Joel Miller

    I don't think Lewis thinks McCain is the same kind of extremist Wallace was but he's right that the McCain campaign's rhetoric stirs up those violent sentiments and could legitimize violence. Take a look at the You Tube videos shot at a McCain rally in Bethlehem PA and see the kind of nasty, hate filled venom is being unleashed by the McCain-Palin attack strategy.

    October 11, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  22. Lauren

    It was nice to finally see McCain address some of the comments yesterday at his rally in MN, but now I want Palin to do it too! Lewis is right and Obama should not have to repudiate anything! I was scared and thought to myself right away when I saw the actions at those rallies that violence could be the next step especially since the M/P campaign wasn't repudiating the hate some of their supporters were spewing.

    Not only was this hate directed at Obama but a black soundperson for the news had racial epitaths shouted at him at one of the rallies! The campaign (especially Palin) are sowing the seeds of hatred and it has to be stopped and just because someone finally got up and called it as it is does not mean that it deserves an apology.

    Lewis was not saying that McCain had any link with Wallace and the bombings he was stating that his rhetoric could lead to the same tragedies that Wallace's rhetoric led to!

    And although McCain corrected a few supporters does not mean more doesn't need to be done! He still has his ads out saying Obama is a liar and dangerous and risky for America, sorry John but that doesn't help!

    Now Palin has switched her stumps from Ayers to abortion saying OBama is radical in his abortion stances, well we all know that abortion clinics get bombed she is just spreading hate in a new arena and it ALL needs to stop!


    October 11, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  23. Kayce

    Why does Obama have to repudiate what Lewis has said? Lewis is correct. McCain and Palin are fueling unnecessary hate and rage against the man who is going to be our next president. The repubs need to stick to the real issues we are concerned with. I'm sorry John/Sarah, race-baiting is not going to work. In a week or two, you guys are going to be down by 15 points in the polls. Offer us facts and policies, tell us what you are going to do to benefit the vast majority of the country, not just the rich and privileged. You can't !! trying to rile up whackos and kooks are not going to work in this day and age. We are too smart...

    October 11, 2008 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  24. SA in OO

    John McCain surely knows OUTRAGEOUS and DIVISIVE comments when he hears then. After all he "approved those messages."

    When your whole campaign is now about spewing venom thorough outrageously untrue, divisively demeaning ads about your opponent, and you are consciously playing the race card on not so subtle ways; you have absolutely no grounds for acting “shocked” when hateful racists start to show up at your rallies in great numbers.

    John you chose your constituent now you live with them. God forbid, if there is unrest from the hatred McCain is fomenting, the consequences are on his head.

    October 11, 2008 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  25. kendra

    The McCain/Palin outright bigotry shames us all as Americans. Lewis is right, our "democracy" is being challenged....and we do not present a good example to the rest of the world. What a terrible scenario is being enacted by the republican party......and the silence of republicans who could temper this hostility is frightening. And we try to encouage "democracy" in the rest of the world? For shame!!!!

    October 11, 2008 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
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