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. Alex de Tokeville

    Perhaps in McCain himself, who claims to be bipartisan, had stood up to the lunatic at his Wisconsin rally who refered to Obama and Pelosi as hooligans and socialists he never would have worried about accusations such as this being made.

    He claims to be a maverick who stands up to leaders in his own party but failed to take a leadership role at the rally where he COULD have directed people away from extremist remarks.

    Maybe he was just afraid to do so with the pitbull by his side.

    October 11, 2008 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  2. Bob

    I Truly believe that when John McCain has a chance to sit down after this is all over and reflect, he will see the horrible movement that he has become a part of. He began to recognize it the other day when he started telling people that Obama is a decent person. He started doing that after the hate retoric became dominant at his rallies. Palin keeps on hating though.

    There was actually a moment during one of his speaches when McCain slams Obama and then he gets a terrified/surprised look on his face when the cround responds with yells of 'terrorist' and other unpleasant terms. It was the next day when he started talking about decorum again. He is also seeing some of his regular supporters abandon and critisize him. Soon he will really understand why.

    October 11, 2008 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  3. CMJ

    Americans are better than racism. There are more good people in this country than divisive racists. And those people will be out in droves to vote. Republican ideas have been tried, and they are now proven to have failed. Time for change.

    October 11, 2008 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  4. Linda Smith

    I agree with Mr. Lewis, Palin knows how to stir up the haters and get them in a frenzy and then it all comes out, Palin is very smart in knowing how to say the right words to get the haters fired up. All I have to say to Obama is, don't stoop to their level.

    October 11, 2008 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  5. Maria, New Mexico

    Sarah Palin could win this election if she didn't have McCain hanging around her neck like a huge albatross.

    Sarah wants to take the gloves off and go after that woos appeaser–Obama but McCain is afraid. This is pathetic.

    Bottom line–McCain loses big time and Sarah runs for President in 2012 and again in 2016 and wins easily.

    October 11, 2008 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  6. Rob

    Lewis is right. McCain / Palin owe the public a major apology. Mc Cains followers lately are as embarresing as they are . Obama don't

    October 11, 2008 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  7. Casey

    John McCain and Sarah Palin ARE provoking fear and hatred. Just this morning CNN had a story on its front page about the rise of "rage" in Republican constituents at town hall meetings.

    What those of us from small town America know is that such words are actually very commonplace, but up until now they've been reserved for private conversations. Now, McCain and Palin have been using their fear mongering tactics to get people to speak out in public.

    It's of course backfiring in terms of getting them elected, but what is truly sad is that what it IS doing is promoting and provoking a very intentional culture war that robs our politics of an air of civility.

    John McCain says he puts country first, but my opinion is that if McCain's idea of putting "country first" is to divide the nation and have us revert to a 1960's "us vs. them" mentality in this country, then he certainly is NOT the man I want to be leading me in Washington. The Wallace comparison is entirely accurate.

    October 11, 2008 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  8. Bayside, Annap Maryland

    I have been a long-time fan of McCain, and I'm happy he has started to defend Obama's character; But he and Palin were the ones fear-mongering and driving people to the point of "terrorist!" and "Kill Him!" at their rallies. They should be ashamed, and THEY should apologize. If they didn't want this type of response, they should not have attempted to paint A US SENATOR as a Terrorist. Duh. . .

    October 11, 2008 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  9. Richard

    Tell me one thing the McCain campaign has done to bring race into this contest. Please. I only ask for one. But without you asking, I will offer a couple of comments made by Mr. Obama or his "representatives":

    -Barack Obama, at a rally earlier this year: "They want you to fear me. 'He doesn't look like you so you should fear him.'" And the Republican ticket has stepped over the line?

    -Sen. Lewis' most recent comments: They are racially motivated, racially accusatory and without merit. Left wing media point to conservative comments such as these as derogatory, improper and racially motivated. Left wing media point to liberal comments, such as these made by Sen Lewis, as pointed and necessary in order to fight a clear racial overtone in the election.

    If you truly want to leave race out of the election, then do not stir up unnecessary, ridiculous (for lack of a better word) CRAP and then scream malfeasance from the other side.

    You may want to pray for our country as a whole; trust me, as bad of shape as this great country is in, the country need your prayers, not temporary politicians.

    October 11, 2008 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  10. georgia jones

    All day long the MSM has been praising McCain for correcting the people at his rally who was lying about Obama. This is nonsense, he has only starting doing this since his own GOP people have said that he and Palin are playing with fire. He intended to do what he did, he is just pretending that he is concerned. He has run the most dishonourable campaign in the the history of electioneering.

    October 11, 2008 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  11. daliz

    Now McCain is attacking civil right's leaders? How much lower can they sink? Do the republicans really want another civil war? Is this what being a "patriotic American" is all about? Why are the conservative Christians not reprimanding their party for it's lies and tone? Democrats are referred to as "commies" and "baby killers." Our candidate is referred to as a terrorist sympathizer because he knows a professor who committed a crime when Obama was a CHILD!

    And yet, the Democrats are not supposed to say anything? Something is terribly wrong in America. The Democratic party is a major AMERICAN political party. Our supporters and our candidates all require (and we need to start demanding) respect. We are every bit as patriotic as you. We are your friends, your family, your neighbors. I cannot help but believe that the future of our country depends on the Republican party rejecting their politics of hate.

    October 11, 2008 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  12. John D.

    McCain's demand for an apology yet more race baiting. Who the hell do these jokers think they are fooling? Most voters aren't as dumb or as racist as McCain/Palin think. Voters know when the dog whistle is blown, and they don't want to vote for hatred.

    October 11, 2008 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  13. Finley, Ohio

    A town hall meeting .. in ohio 80 years old White Lady from small town ohio .. 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 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  14. luvienne

    Palin-Mccain have been stoking their campaign with rhetoric inciting hatred, not a difference of opinion. They only tried to tone it down when other Republicans expressed concern. They are pathetic and desperate. Mccain is not entitled to the presidency.

    October 11, 2008 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  15. Scott

    When you bring absolutely nothing to the table, this is what you have to resort to. So here we go again. The Democrats throwing out the race card once again. No wonder there is so much hatred out there. When you have people like Lewis constantly bringing race up when nothing is there. For all of you supporting his comments, you too are part of the problem.

    It's not McCains fault that there are people out there that are sick of Obama skirting all of the tough questions. I guess most Obama supporters feel it is ok that a person Like Bill Ayers could have some sway with the presidency. The same guy that tried to kill cops and our service members. Maybe cop killers are ok to Obama supporters, but it scares me to death that Ayers will someday be in the white house laughing at all of the men and women who go out there ever day and protect us. Bill Ayers setting foot in the White House will be the ultimate insult to all of our public servants. What a shame that Obama supporters dont care about that.

    October 11, 2008 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  16. John in VA

    My racist family in Michigan is supporting Obama. That should tell you something right there.

    October 11, 2008 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  17. David Higgins

    This is a very frightening issue generated by far right conservitive thinking. Taking us to ta place where we are better than all others. There is only one GOD and God belongs to all people on earth.

    October 11, 2008 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  18. Finley, Ohio

    A town hall meeting .. in ohio 80 years old White Lady from small town ohio .. 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 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  19. AIB

    The McCain's camp tries to divert attention once agian. McCain camp has explicitly called Senator Obama as a terrorist and induced volience and hostility in their rallies. Sarah Palin, as a hypocrit, needs to answer her abuse of power.

    October 11, 2008 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  20. MaryMack

    Senator McCain, John Lewis spoke the truth. Your campaign has sunk to a new low in American politics. We the people deserve better. You've demonstrated a total lack of character in allowing this hate mongering at your rallies. SHAME ON YOU!

    October 11, 2008 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  21. How did Obama get this far????

    If you look out in the crowd there are some angry people and they keep asking HOW DID OBAMA GET THIS FAR, what that suppose to mean, Obama has ran his campaign like non other he has done a great job bringing people together, I live in the SOUTH I see stuff like this everyday, thats why SOUTH CAROLINA will always be a red state it's people like this that will never accept a black person it's sad but true.

    October 11, 2008 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |

    "If Obama Loses" et al. America, may ll higher powers protect her, i s a free land. Ditch your racism. You are making our children cry and you are dishonoring the soldiers that have fought for nd still fight for our rights and liberties. I am white. And I I crumble when I read and hear you spewing. Its sickening.

    October 11, 2008 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  23. Abbey

    Why should Obama apologize for Mr. Lewis' (very truthful) comments? It defames Palin? What is she doing?!

    Isn't it just like the Republicans to demand apologies when others speak the truth about them yet it's fine and country first and American to attack others about untruths?

    October 11, 2008 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  24. Doraine Gordon

    We have so many nuts in our world and it doesn't take much to set them off. When McCain and Palin rattle off as they have all week they stir these nuts up. This can lead to something very dangerous. They don't care. Those two will say and do anthing to win this election. They had better be careful. When McCain defended Obama the crowd booed him. He is lucky they didn't turn on him. That could happen so him and ugly girl need to shut their mouths, John Louis said a good thing and nobody owes McCain any apology...Doraine in Tx

    October 11, 2008 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  25. chris


    just take a minute and think about that

    this is awful

    October 11, 2008 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
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