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. Typical White Guy

    How about we talk about Obama's position on being for:

    Killing unborn babies through all 9 months?
    Voting "present" as an IL Sen. on the "born alive" act?
    The Freedom of Choice act, which would take away state rights
    across the board on abortion?

    Same sex "marriage?"
    Same sex adoption?

    Teaching our young children about touching, rather than abstinence?

    Oh...sorry...this is probably hate speech too!

    October 11, 2008 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  2. JANIE

    McCain needs to repudiate Sarah Palin, because that is exactly the crowd that is following her the hate mongers and she is rallying them up! Call on Palin to Stop!

    October 11, 2008 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  3. Louisiana

    I, too, have been feeling like the McCain-Palin rallies are looking more like good 'ole cross burning sessions. Now I know that I'm not alone.

    October 11, 2008 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  4. Old White guy in Virginia

    I have watched in total amazement as the McCain campaign has sunk to new lows, they do try to instill fear and hatred with thier rhetoric. If anyone should issue a repudiation of comments, it shoud be John McCain for the inflammatory comments by both himself, and his pitiful choice for VP. Sarah Palin has set womens chances for the highest office in this land back at least forty years, What an IDIOT!!! Maybe Chelsey will have an opportunity, it will probably take that lone to restore faith in women pols, after this fiasco. This Independent Voter will be casting his ballot for Obama on 11/04/08.

    OBAMA/BIDEN 08-12

    October 11, 2008 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  5. Karen i

    Palin has incited the crowds this entire week with the Ayers statements. Today she's not mentioning Ayers but only now she was to stick to the issues. In the crowds where Palin has spoke.. I've heard people scream the most horrible things I've heard since the 60's.. they screamed
    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 show them we can come together as one. Obama/Biden '08

    October 11, 2008 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  6. FleetFootNC

    Lewis, don't start a war unless you're ready to finish it. I am a proud supporter of John McCain and I think your words are stupid and antiquated. I don't kill little girls and I don't do lynchings. But, I have a right to support someone who thinks BHO is being less than honest with the American people. You think I'm a biggot? Grow up.

    October 11, 2008 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  7. Bobby Seabrook

    McCain thinks that Americans are ignorant and without brains. He has been banging Barack with lies upon lies, he now realizes that most Americans are tired of his sick attacks against Barack. We all know it is because his horrible tactics that blew up in his face drove him to act like he supports and cares about Barack. HIS COMPLIMENTS TOWARDS BARACK ARE HOLLOW AT BEST...........HE PLAYED THE RACE CARD THROUGH HIS SUPPORTERS and it was realized by the American public, he knowing that, is now putting on a false face. He and Failin (palin) need to step down and discontinue their Dumb and Dumber act...... America is in need of serious lkeadership to get us through this crisiss....Barack and Joe will do a great job..............bye bye McBush and Falin, Barnum and Bailey are looking for clown acts, you two qualify for the job.

    October 11, 2008 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  8. conservative from Florida

    WOW! If I remember correctly the quote was "the only thing different from a hockey mom and a pittbull was lipstick!" And the crowd went wild!! Then when these hateful remarks were being said at your rallies which was clearly heard by Gov Palin, She OR YOU DID OR SAID NOTHING! You John McCain and YOU Sarah Palin created this mess and now want Senator Obama to repudiate these comments? Sad thing was at one time I liked Senator McCain but now it isn't about "Country First" its about win at all cost and the chickens are now coming home to roost! YOU Senator McCain need to salvage whatever career you have left by simply adhearing to your own words COUNTRY FIRST and make a statement NOW before it's to late simply this" IF YOUR VOTING FOR ME BECAUSE OF THE RACE OF MY OPPONENT THEN I DO NOT WANT YOUR VOTE" This is one conservative that will vote for the person who wants to build up not tear down this great country. Obama/Biden 2008

    October 11, 2008 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  9. Obama is for UNITING of the PEOPLE

    DRAMA King McCain want Obama to apologize for the comment of Rep. Lewis, UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!!!!!!! Another attempt from the KING of Drama to DESTRACT the voters from the economy woes. McCain JUST DON'T GET IT!!!!!!!!! For WEEKS Palin has been standing RIGHT beside McCain calling and telling all kinds of LIES on Obama, King of drama said NOTHING, but SMILED. The speeches he and Palin were giving made some of their supporters make criminal threats. Now that he see the voting are NOT pleased with his message of HATE, he want us to THINK he finds it’s unacceptable. While Palin and his other hired mouth pieces and ads continue to tell lies and continue be very negative about Obama.

    YOU don't fool us McCain, that woman was used just like you are using Palin.
    Obama OWE you NOTHINGGGGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 11, 2008 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  10. Old Republical

    Let me be honest. I am tired of McCain's attack and I am going to vote Democrat. He is not my hero anymore!!!!!

    October 11, 2008 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  11. Obama Now More Than Ever

    I completely agree with John Lewis. The McCain/Palin campaign has crossed the line with it hate-spewing and violence-inducing language and tone. Rageful people at the ridiculous McCain Palin rallies are shouting racial slurs, hate-crime language, and threatening violence. McCain and Palin ignore it and do not try to stop it (except one lame time yesterday by McCain). Not condemning it is the same as condoning it.
    McCain and Palin are conducting a dangerous and reckless campaign against Obama. The Secret Service is investigating them because it has become so hateful and on the edge of violence.
    Even the media traveling with McCain and Palin have been subjected to racial slurs by the McCain/Palin crowd at these rallies.
    CNN's own David Gergen who is a man of reason and has served both Republican and Democratic Presidents brought up the level of anger and hatred that McCain and Palin are stirring up at their rallies. He even expressed concern for the violence it could cause.
    Sorry McCain – but the truth hurts. You started this hate-spewing slander against Obama and it has raised up rage-filed crowds that are dangerous and potentially violent. You have done nothing to stop it but continue the same hate and lie-filled attacks.
    I find it despicable and irresponsible. McCain and Palin are dangerous and reckless and this proves they are unfit to lead this country.
    McCain and Palin rallies are the most hateful, disgusting things I have ever seen. The media should stop covering them completely out of a moral responsibilty to protect more violence-inducing language to be spread.
    McCain you are guilty of everything John Lewis said and I am glad you are finally being called out on it. You are a disgrace and a bigot and deserve to be arrested on hate-crime charges. Your own Party has denounced the nastiest of your campaign. The voters hate it. It worries those of us who know what nutty people will do when they are told to hate, driven to to rage, and not controlled.
    McCain you should apologize for the hate-mongering environment you have created!!

    October 11, 2008 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  12. Mike

    The truth hurts, doesn't it John?

    October 11, 2008 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  13. vern

    The shoe fits, John and Sarah. Wear them.

    October 11, 2008 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  14. annie - never again a dem.

    No big deal – just obama playing the race card again and again and again and again. Funny how he and his camp. are the ONLY ones who have played the race card throughtout this whole campaign. Guess obama must hate black people.

    October 11, 2008 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  15. McCain - its time to be honorable

    John Lewis – I for one entirely agree with you.

    A Police Sheriff uniform hailing Vice Presidential nominee, naming the political opponent by emphasizing his middle name of Arab descent while members of the audience yell "kill" and and terrorist without the nominated VP strongly rebuking it right there on the spot. That is disgusting. Its the fear rhetoric of the past. Fear is what was kept people hostages of racism for centuries. McCain needs to do a lot to make up for this past week of initiating terror and rage – and not least he needs to get his VP under control. Forbid that he is ever not there to keep her under control should he win the Presidency.

    That said, I understand McCains outrage. After all, nothing hurt like realizing once own wrongs.

    October 11, 2008 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  16. joec

    Congressman Lewis has nothing to apologize for. I've watched and read with horror how the GOP ticket is using its rallies to whip up fear and hatred. Why else would that Palin woman say something like "he's not like us?" I knew right away what she meant. It's time to McCain to retake control of his campaign if for no other reason that he won't become a footnote in history as someone who tried to win an election by setting the cause of civil rights a hundred years.
    The country has had enough of this hate-mongering. McCain should show some of those leadership qualities he always brags about and put an end to this shameful campaign. For me, these days Republican is just another word for racist.

    October 11, 2008 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  17. Don

    As an observer of US elections since JFK, I must say I was shocked by the tone of Palin's recent speeches, and her go along nodding and smiling to the "kill him" and "terrorist" shout outs was sickening. The GOP is clearly desperate to employ these methods. An earlier attack dog comparison of Palin to Nixon's choice of Spiro Agnew is spot on. Palin will not politically survive her home state corruption charges either. If McCain is elected, expect another Gerald Ford presidency..... except it will be Lieberman. Good luck with all that and for god's sake make the right choice this year.....

    October 11, 2008 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  18. MikeyMo

    Lewis is right, and Obama doesn't need to repudiate anything. McCain and Palin sat by idly while their followers yelled, "kill him," "hang him," "off with hs head," "terrorist," "muslim," "traitor," etc. When the media started to call out McCain on his decision to not use some crowd control, he had no choice but to step in yesterday when on national TV, a man said he was afraid to bring a child into the world if Obama is Pres and a woman called Obama an Arab that she fears. Note that he didn't refute the lie, but he did say Obama is a family man. Whatever that means . . .

    Today Obama thanked McCain for toning down the rhetoric, and McCain attacked Obama for trying to tell him what to do. I do think McCain is being willfully racist, and I think the Wallace comparison is entirely fair.

    October 11, 2008 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  19. Hercules Mulligan

    Some want to plunge this country into a civil war. What is in the works is the real problem rather than the financial crisis. Time to time.

    October 11, 2008 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  20. cile

    John McCain is the biggest liar politics ever had.  On one hand he talks about bipartisanship, kumbayaa, etc. and on the other it is just blatant lies and innuendo.    Get over it John and Sarah.  Like Joe Biden said, if you have something to say, say it to my face.  In this case, don't send a woman out to do your dirty work and hide behind her.  Hey John.  It is over loser!Oh and by the way, Sarah Palin will not have a job as governor by the time this is over and well deserved.  She and Todd belong on a soap opera.  I think they will meet the minimum requirements. Oh and on another note as the mother of a soldier in this case National Guard not active duty and who by the way is returning to Iraq tomorrow, Cinty McCain can take a hike in my opinion.  She criticizes Obama for his vote against troop funding BECAUSE  it does not include a timeline for withdrawal and she fails to acknowledge that her husband voted the same way two months earlier when a timeline was included.  Cindy you are as big a liar as your husband,  Don't even go there with me  when it comes to this war.  Your son wasn't there in '05 when the death toll was over the top every month.  You haven't even been there.  I invite you to walk a mile in my shoes and then we will talk.

    October 11, 2008 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  21. Independent in NY

    Thank you Congressman Lewis for speaking up. Palin is a disgrace and the McCain/Palin team rallies are dispicable. If Palin were in any other Western nation she would be jailed for inciting racial hatred. What a sad day for America to find ourselves with such ignorant and dangerous politicians.

    October 11, 2008 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  22. wolfhow1

    Please add to erratic, hostile, dishonest and mercurial, the word hypocrite. McCain/Palin: Mudslinger/Trash.

    October 11, 2008 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  23. tim

    We should not distract from serious questions about Obama.
    He is wanting in every regard and merely a stooge for a lot \
    of manipulators.

    October 11, 2008 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  24. Tim

    Well, he is right. The truth hurts. The McCain campaign's supporters have been whipped up into a frothy, violent frenzy. Hopefully, none of these people act on their bigotry and hatred.

    October 11, 2008 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  25. Pat in Georgia

    I'm confused... Why is Obama supposed to repudiate the remarks made to John McCain by John Lewis? Because Obama is also a Democrat? Or perhaps because Lewis and Obama are both African-American? Gee whiz, McCain - get a grip.

    You did an honorable thing by asking folks at your rallies to be respectful. Obama publicly thanked you - and Tucker Bounds repudiated your noble gesture by blasting Obama for thanking you. But then, you did tell some of your attendees at a rally that you'd fooled 'em once and you'll fool 'em again...

    October 11, 2008 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
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