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. Jeff

    Benidict Aeyers terroized the United States by BOMBING the Pentagon.

    I don't care how long ago that was, Obama launching his run for politics in Benidict Aeyers home and serving with him on boards is "paling" around with him.

    I don't understand why some people don't see this as an issue. Maybe we are so far away from the great depression and WWII that its become hard for people to understand what an American Patriot really is.

    October 11, 2008 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  2. Jack

    I believe both Mccain and Palin have ended their political careers.

    After November 4, McCain will return to Arizona, then the Senate in disgrace for his campaign choices and verbage. Palin will return to Alaska and most probably face legal charges for ethics violations.

    Both candidates' political careers will end with a steep crash and an all consuming burn. No apology, however loud will be heard by any intelligent constituency. McCain's and Palin's behavior have been dispicable, unexcusable and beneath the dignity of any elected official.

    It is apparent both candidates have lost their way. No bell can be unrung.

    October 11, 2008 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  3. Luv/Canada

    As an outsider,if you allowed your fans to plant the seed of hate and later result in future harm,you better blame yourself.Sarah P and John M has started this fire,it's their responsibility to turn it off.After watching this demostration of craze you guys called democracy for the past 21 months,i think i now prefare socialism or communism.

    October 11, 2008 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  4. Marie

    Wonderful. Rep. Lewis hit the nail on the head. McCain and Palin have both been fueling a fire (with no extinguisher handy) in recent days. McCain needs to sit down, look at tapes of his and Palin's speeches – and hear the lies and venom they have been spewing. they know they cannot win on issues – so they have to attack Obama personally. they have crossed so many lines – they need to be held accountable. Palin will be here tomorrow evening – and I am so NOT looking forward to her at all. McCain and Palin owe Barack Obama apologies – not the other way around. the next 3 weeks are going to be very interesting.

    October 11, 2008 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  5. Frank In IL.

    When you have nothing to say you say anything. The McCain/Palin ticket are horrific representatives of one of our major American political parties. Whatever the imperfections of the Obama/Biden ticket, if America elects McCain/Palin, in a couple of years we shall all be thinking George Bush was a great President. That is if these backward looking ideologues don't all get us killed first, either financially or literally.

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

    The Republicans chose to go negative with their campaign rather than focus on the issue. Now they will not accept responsibility for their actions! McCain eventually accepted the Republican demands to appoint a brainless pitbull as his running mate. He should have shown guts and gone with his own choice. Someone with a brain capable of understanding the issues would have been a real help to the campaign. Where has the real McCain gone? Now he and his party have become totally reckless!

    October 11, 2008 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  7. Repub hillbillies are dangerous

    McCain & Palin,
    If, God forbid, anything happens to this outstanding American citizen (Sen. Obama), you both will have blood on your hands. You will then will have to face the law, and the wrath of the nation.

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

    The straight talk express once again becomes the trash talk express. When will McCain finally come to his senses and realize all the terms used in his campaign such as "traitor", "Liar" and perhaps the most important one, "terrorist" have triggered hate mongering in a campaign that he himself said he will run as clean as possible. Perhaps being Old is one thing, but wisdom is reserved for only those who truly seek it. And clearly, John McCain is not one of those who has wisdom or shows signs of wanting it.

    October 11, 2008 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  9. bob j

    thank you rep lewis all america knows what mccain and palin are doing its the only way they think they can win trying to divide americans lets face it we are all in a deep mess with this money issue its time to unite and elect obama and biden and get america back on its feet lets defeat moose and squirrel please america vote for the right team vote what you know in your heart is the right thing to do the whole world respects obama it is the right way to go beside mccain and palin can keep there day jobs many of want even have a part time job with mccain and palin

    October 11, 2008 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  10. johnrj08

    McCain knows that Lewis is right, so he has to call on Obama to do the repudiating. I've lived through more than a dozen national elections and I've NEVER seen a ticket do more to incite hatred of its opponent. What McCain and Palin have been doing is all the more upsetting because they are clearly out of this election. Two angry, substandard politicians acting in a vindictive and destructive manner that will only serve to make bipartisan cooperation even more difficult for the next administration. Shameful.

    October 11, 2008 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  11. KJL

    McCain has high praise for those who agree with him at any given moment.

    October 11, 2008 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  12. concerned citizen

    It is so freightening to hear such comments at the McCain/Palin rallies. For the both of them to stand there with such silly grins on their faces when hatred is being spoken all around them is insane. Even if you dislike or disagree with someone it is un christianlike to stand there and let that happen. Both of them makes me nervous, they will stop at nothing to win. If anything happens to Mr. Obama or his family the blood is on their hands. God protect this country from people like Mccain and Obama.

    October 11, 2008 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  13. Chris from STL

    Mr. McCains's campaign needs to be careful with well worded, inciting, but veiled remarks on Obama. Now, after the race, sex education, terrorism comments, Sarah is turning her rhetoric on 'abortion' .... Please watch out Sarah in what you say at your events. There are a lot of extremist morons out there .... they just need some one to incite them to go berserk.

    October 11, 2008 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  14. ket

    The republicans should hold a meeting with McCain and tell him he is in danger of painting their party as a racist party. The conservatives such as Hannity.Limbaugh,Ingram and others have already represented as such.this should stop before they go too far!

    October 11, 2008 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  15. JANIE

    ROCKY & BULLWINKLE deserve each other

    October 11, 2008 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  16. Progressive Observer

    Unfortunately John McCain's comments on the condemnation betray him. To go so far as to demand an apology suggests that McCain's recent about face on those attacks is all about his falling polls not some new principle. John McCain apparently does not realize just how much damage he and Sarah Palin have done by convincing zealous supporters their opponent is anti-American. That is beyond the pale but then Palin was chosen to say their opponent is against God so she probably isn't even warmed up yet.

    October 11, 2008 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  17. Sue in Los Angeles

    Palin and McCain have purposefully and repeatedly whipped up their zealots into the kind of mob mentality that used to result in a lynching or two. You absolutely cannot deny that this is racially-oriented. The hatred on the white faces of those in the crowd is NO different than those in the lynch mobs of the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Thank you, Rep. Lewis for speaking the truth. There is no apology or repudiation necessary here.

    If anything should happen to Barack Obama and his family, it will be on Palin and McCain's head. They would rightly be held wholly responsible and I shudder at the response of the American people.

    Sarah, honey, it's time to go on home to Alaska, where they may or may not want you back. Senator McCain, you've shown your true, sad character and lost your honor.

    And may none of us forget Emmett Till.

    October 11, 2008 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  18. Phillip

    It's the truth. McCain and Palin have been running on this hee-haw small-town ignorant hatred for a long time now, and the racial overtones need to stop. Just watch the video where the McCain fans are questioning Obama's "bloodlines".

    October 11, 2008 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  19. willpen

    It is about time that racial rhetoric in this country is being brought out of the closet and discussed in an intelligent manner. There is nothing wrong with Congressman Lewis' remarks. If McCain wants to bring his kind of dialog into the campaign then he has to deal with what the other side wants to say.

    Obama / Biden in 08

    October 11, 2008 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  20. Paul

    Lewis is 100% right. John McCain's hate rallies are too extreme and with the economy as it is, violence can breakout and McCain and Palin are stoking the flames. McCain is showing himself as unworthy for the office of President.

    October 11, 2008 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  21. Brad

    John McCain was for decades a dedicated public servant, first in the Navy, then as an elected official. Now he has sold his soul in the name of being President.

    October 11, 2008 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  22. Ms J

    McCain is a consistant liar if it was not for the voters he would still allow the public to verbally lash out at Obama. He says his supporters legitamately care about Obama's record but they sound like an angry lynch mob and have not said anything of substance to support their fear.

    October 11, 2008 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  23. Typical White Guy

    Oh and then there was Sara "Burnedout"...(aka bernhard – comedian)

    She said is Sara Palin campaigned in NY her "big black" friends would "gang rape" her....where's the outrage???? Where's Sharpton? Jackson? C'mon....double standard and strange bed-fellows.

    Nice commentary at a woman's shelter for the abuse.

    October 11, 2008 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  24. Nekol from AZ voting for OBAMA!

    I don't see that this gentleman has said anything different from what I have been reading on these blogs for the last 3 days... SO I guess McCain would have Obama repudiate what so many .. many... Americans have already been saying. You to Senator Mccain should apologize also, for your supporters horrible and dangerous remarks.

    October 11, 2008 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  25. Jean Jolicoeur (Florida)

    Rep Lewis' comments are completely right. McCain and Palin were applauding those in the crowd who were yelling: Kill him, treason, Terrorist, Offer his head (speaking of Obama). Why didn't they come out and reject this type of behavior. It's so appalling to see these two candidates are enciting people to violence. They are using scare tactics to intimidate americans not to vote for Obama. They have to be ashamed of themselves. They couldn't talk about the economy because they are not up to the economic challenges. Palin is incompetent, she can't even answer questions to Journalists. They should be held accountable for any violence that may occur in the future. Palin started it last weekend by launching her vicious attacks against Barack Obama. They should appologize for it.

    October 11, 2008 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
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