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. Jennifer

    Well, Mr Mccan and Mrs Palin, maybe you should talk to your crowd first about screaming out racial and hateful words. It's getting scary, because one bone head or sick minded mad person in your crow could really believe that his family is in danger because of Obama and This bone headed man might get a gun and to on a shooting rampage. This used to happen in the 60s. So please calm your crowds down and stick to Policies and Issues. Wise americans like me, know that Politics is just like any game, you have to play it right. But this does not constitute sick mindedness.

    October 11, 2008 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  2. nadeem

    John McCain released this ginie from the bottle. He should be ashamed of himself. Lewis is just pointing out the truth.

    October 11, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  3. Holly from Minnesota

    Lewis is _right_. I watched the McCain rally here in Minnesota last night, and audience members obnviously feel that they're allowed to say _anything_ they want in a McCain-Palin forum. Xenophobia and barely-disguised racism are rampant, and for McCain to have allowed things to go this far is inexusable.

    October 11, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  4. kathy

    McCain should listen to himself and Palen. John Lewis is right.
    McCain/Palen have moved people into a frenzy of fear and hate.
    Im a white senior citizen and have wondered this past week if McCain/Palen are hidden racists. Part of her speach at the Convention came from a quote from Westbrook Pegler in the 60's and he was a southern racists. The rest of his statement was very vile. Ask Bobby Kennedy Jr.. Im older than McCain and remember those days well.

    October 11, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  5. FAYE, NV

    Mr Lewis is absolutely right the Palin/McCain is provoking rage in the rallies and think it is okay. Someone need to speak out about this kind of campaigning.

    McCain style reminds me when first attending school segragations how provide some were and parents not sending their children to school with people of different color. Parents were afraid and there were those who played on emotional fears. This is exactly what McCain is doing. Sometimes I wonder with people like McCain/Palin and others will this world ever change.

    October 11, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  6. Mona

    Mr McCain, I use to respect you and for what you stand for. Your aggressive and personal attack as resulted in making a lot of people angry and afraid of YOU..

    Sarah Palin said during debate that zBiden was pointing finger and looking backforward...that is ALL she has been doing since she started campaigning. She abused her pwer in Alaska and continues to do so every day, You have to put a stop to it. Your rating is dropping daily, thanks to people like me who were undecided and now you've made our decision for us. I am voting for candidate with moral and knowledge. Your campaign has not shown that.

    Sorry, Obama and Biden is getting my vote on 11/4

    October 11, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  7. Shelly D.

    I am repeatedly amazed and awe-struck at ho politicians can look at something and get it totally twisted. John Lewis said, "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". It's clear he is referring to the comments of "Kill Him and Terrorist", referrring to Obama at the Republican rallies this week, and THE LACK of either McCain or Palin to silience those comments.

    Yet McCain is off on a tangent, and nobody corrects him. Although I did just see on the news 10 minutes ago John take the mic from a woman that called Obama an Arab. Funny thing though, he was boohed for doing so. Things are really getting out of hand in the Republican rallies.

    October 11, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  8. Barbara - 65 yr old white female in NC

    Whine Whine Whine. You, Mr. McCain need to repudiated and dispell the power hungry control freak you have selected as your VP. She's one of the most hateful women I've ever seen in my life.

    October 11, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  9. CindyN--PA

    Barack Obama should not respond to what Lewis has said.
    It's the truth. I am a white woman and I feel that at the Palin and McCain rally's they have been preaching to a lynch mob type of crowd.
    It's really sad and I think Palin is almost a person who can't even acknowledge what she is doing is wrong. It's like the woman has no conscience.
    McCain and Palin were the one's talking up that hate filled dividing message. It brings out the worst in people and it can result in violence.
    What this man Lewis is stating, is simply the truth.
    Americans can see this. McCain and Palin have nothing honorable about them.

    October 11, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  10. Carol Myers

    Carol Myers Ohio
    I've watched some of Palen's attacks on the stump and I was appalled at what the people were shouting. It sounded like a mob. John McCain has lost my respect with his negative attacks especially after what Bush did to him in South Carolina.
    Former Hillary supporter for Obama

    October 11, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  11. Kay

    I guess John McCain does not realise the full weight of what he directed Sarah Palin to do. John Lewis' comments represent a character attack against Governor Sarah Palin and me that is shocking and beyond the pale,” McCain said.

    Please, Senator McCain what did you direct Sarah Palin to do? Well, maybe you do know. It is called character attack against against Barack Obama. And most shamefully with some dose of racial under tone.

    October 11, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  12. Ann

    I totally agree with Lewis. McCain and Palin has made it very, very ugly out there. I fear for Obama's life.

    October 11, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  13. S Callahan

    God help our country.

    "Where there is no vision the people will perish" Proverbs29:10

    Wake up people, we must move forward.

    October 11, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  14. anonymous35

    I think Lewis is right on. The rhetoric that the McCain/ Palin campaign is using IS reminiscent of Wallace's. It IS extremely divisive and dangerous. John McCain loves to speak about how he, "reaches across the aisle," but he is leading a campaign that is feeding racial and religious division. This climate they are creating is dangerous. McCain and Palin need to end it. As the campaign becomes desperate, so do their supporters. While they may view themselves as the "great protectors of America" they are only dividing these United States.

    October 11, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  15. ReinHere

    Repudiate what? You are creating a fire that you will not be able to put out if you continue this tone of behavior with your followers. The statement made by Congressman Lewis, has nothing to do with Obama, but more to do with your lack of control regarding the rhetoric of lies you are continuing. I guess at this point, you don't know who Mr. Lewis is? Isn't this the same guy that you included amongst the 3 people you respect most. Now Obama must repudiate him! John this was one of your dear friends, if I am correct. Why not address him yourself? Is it because he is black and he has now disagreed with you or is just another of a million opportunities to take a shot at Obama over another mess that you created?

    Pretty sad of you, Johnny Boy...both you and Scary Pumps are pathetic!

    October 11, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  16. Lost in Texas

    Mccain HAS so far tried to quell some of the hate and ignorance aimed at Sen Obama, but Gov. Palin HAS NOT! Once I hear her say something similar then I think this type of stuff can end. If she keeps it going then it shows to me that McCain has NO control at all over his own campaign and that indeed is sad!

    October 11, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  17. bernice

    You Reap What You Sow McCain. You are not Entitled to Respect when Your Behavior and those of Your supports doesn't warrant It...

    October 11, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  18. Sad Obamaphiles

    Oh for God's sake. Obamaphiles, could you be any more biased? This Lewis guy is nuts... isn't he the one who defected from Hillary to Obama during the primaries? Stop going anti-McCain at everything. It's really distasteful and petty.

    October 11, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  19. Dana from NY

    The truth hurts huh? It is disgusting what the McCain/Palin campaign is insiting and its about dam time someone stood up and called it what it was. They don't like it- well then tough! It had to be said!!!!!

    October 11, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  20. Neicey in Ohio

    Ohio voter's get out today and cast your vote ... Go head Mr Lewis tell it like it is. IMPEACH Palin.

    October 11, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  21. grant

    was is it alright for gov. palin to say negative things that could cause corrupting in our country but no one is saying to sen. maccain repudiate them.

    October 11, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  22. ANGIE

    Mccain HAS LOST HIS MIND!!

    October 11, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  23. CB2

    Is McCain serious???? How about McCain repudiates the guy who brought up Obama's past drug use. How about McCain repudiates the traitor democrat who said that she doesn't know enough about Obama. How about repudiating Sarah Palin's blatant claims against Obama as palling around with terrorits.

    October 11, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  24. Wake-up America

    The McCain/Palin ticket is the most disgraceful campaign I have ever witnessed and I have been voting for 30+ years. I am an Independent and supported Senator McCain in 2000, NOT ANYMORE. I just can’t understand how many Independents can buy into these Republican FEAR TACTICS.

    McCain/Palin are not Uniters they are dividers. They are single handedly turning back time to an era that I honestly thought was slowly but surely diminishing in this country. I guess I was wrong. I have seen with my own eyes the hatred expressed NOT by Obama supporters against McCain supporters but BY McCain supporters against Obama supporters. There have been acts of vandalism against property and violence against persons.

    Is this the type of leadership America really wants?

    Any one, let alone a Presidential Candidate who could not only condone these racial, bigoted gestures but be a part of them is NOT A LEADER and is surely NOT PUTTING COUNTRY FIRST.

    The Republicans are the TRUE SHAME of this country and this is one Independent Voter that will NOT be voting Republican this election.

    This is a disgrace to our country. SAD, JUST PLAIN SAD.

    October 11, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  25. Kathie, Houston, TX

    Gee John, the truth hurts doesn't it. You have been running one of the lowest, dirtiest campaigns and when you are called on it, seems like you go running home to mommy. In this case, Cindy and Sarah. Just go home already.

    Its easy to connect McCain to the likes of Wallace. You don't have to be the one to throw the bomb, your just as guilty by what comes out of your mouth and the effects afterwards. Take responsibility for what you say, if you can't, keep your mouth shut!!!

    Thank you Mr. Lewis for calling this poor excuse of a man for what he is. Its about time somebody did, as even the media isn't doing their jobs.

    October 11, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
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