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. Obama is at teacher and bullies hate school

    Whatever McCain, you don't repudiate the terrible remarks that your surrogates make on TV all the time, and you didn't repudiate the remarks of the supporters at your and Palin's rallies, so why should Obama repudiate Lewis? What he said is totally true, and you can't just throw a tantrum to make it go away. Stop with the negative inuendos about Obama's character and get with the program of repairing a broken America. I applaud Lewis for stepping in to fill the void where McCain should be. The racist sentiments that are brewing in the Republican party need to be quelled before something horrible happens. Obama gave a wonderful speech to promote unity and discourage racial tensions after the Rev Wright fiasco, so why can't the aspiring leader Sen John McCain come out with some words of wisdom for his supporters? All he seems to be able to do is spew out garbage then cry when someone tries to clean it up.

    October 11, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  2. HL, Atlanta

    I am proud to call John Lewis my representative.

    October 11, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  3. Janeen

    Why would Mccain ask Obama to become involved in a a third party statement?
    This is between Mccain and Lewis!
    It is how Lewis feels about Mccains Campaign strategy!

    Mccain and Palin are preaching hate speech they need to defend themselves!
    It has nothing to do with Obama!

    October 11, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  4. Jeremy

    I believe this is not the kind of issues we should be seeing in this century. Mcain and Palin should realize the danger their recent rhetoric attacks leads to. We need positive ideas and not Mcain/Palin attack lies which are gifting Obama with easy win.

    October 11, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  5. Tim

    Never has truer words been said

    October 11, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  6. david

    I'm a conservative but McCain should take a look at the campaign rally footage for the last week. It really is scary. I can see how Lewis made the connection. I'd go further and say the rally I saw with Sarah resembled the fervor of fascism.

    October 11, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  7. Kathy

    I find it hard to believe that McCain doesn't realize what Palin's and his comments sounded like. Rep. Lewis is right on the mark.

    McCain needs to sit down and really watch the videos of Palin and himself and listen to the crowds. Wake up McCain. You two were sounding a lot like George Wallace. I'm 62 years old and remember George Wallace's hate mongering and seeing him on TV.

    October 11, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  8. Southboy

    I think that the McCain camp should tone this type of language down. It is bad for the country. In 2008 America we have come too far to bridge the relationship between black, white, hispanic, asian it doesn’t matter. (There is much work to be done) but I don't think that the tone the McCain campaign has taken is doing much to help. I am smart enough to believe that people will vote for the candidate that they feel is best for the job and not because the color of his/her skin.

    October 11, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  9. Jasmine in Germany

    MCain deserves to hear Lewis' thoughts. The Straight Talk Express took a detour a long time ago. McCain has run an unethical, dishonest and divisive campaign, he followed the advice of his highly paid staff. He is not a leader.

    October 11, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  10. Eyckie

    McCain created this himself. Along with Palin and Cindy McCain he helped to manipulated and incite racial violence. If McCain didn't want that to happen than he shouldn't have attacked a Christian and decent man. The whole country is thinking the same thing. Rep. Lewis is 100% right and McCain needs to get on his knees and beg the American people to forgive him for trying to get another candidate lynched.

    It's a good thing he won't get in. Not after what he has done. Looks good on him.

    October 11, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  11. Helena

    John McCain has his nerve asking Obama to apologize for something someone else has said. Thsi remark is not from the Obama campaign. The remarks uttered by him and Palin not only incited riots, they encouraged them. How dare he. Did he apologize for the ugly things said by his and her audiences when they were speaking supposedly in behalf of the US?

    October 11, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  12. republicans hate america

    well Lewis is right this reckless behavior by mcCain and especially Palin will trigger some nut to do something. They should be utterly ashamed of themselves for resorting to this desperation tactics just to grab power most of us do not want them to have.

    October 11, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  13. Eyes Wide Open

    This is ridiculous. McCain and Palin knew full well what they were doing in charging that Obama was someone people should be scared of, that he consorted with terrorists, that he is "not like us." Now that the results of their lies and hate mongering are manifest, and are backfiring on them, they have the nerve to be "Shocked"??? Please – spare us all the mock indignation. You have reaped what you sowed. Man up and own it.

    October 11, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  14. bibek

    So nobody can point fingers at McCain no matter what he does?

    October 11, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  15. Gee, Alabama

    I think Jon McCain is sincere about keeping his campaign civilized, unfortunately he seems to be the only one. His leadership skills are not even enough to keep his own people on track, much less a whole country.

    Obama/Biden 08

    October 11, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  16. jd

    As a marine I was stationed in AZ and MLK day was voted down by McCain you should apologize

    October 11, 2008 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  17. Chrystyna Garrigan

    Are you kidding me? John McCain is asking Obama to repudiate these remarks? What a hypocrite!! Is McCain not running his own campaign, or, like his sudden decision that he was a Washington "outsider" after 26 years in the Senate, or suddenly denouncing his own party to look like a "maverick", is he now not in charge of the words being spewed out by the horrible Gov. Palin and the rest of his team? Does he not watch the ads he approves?

    Over the past few years and culminating with his campaign, it has been truly sad to see Sen. McCain become that which he claimed to detest. He has become the very worst type of politician, whose ambition trumps all, willing to win at any cost to the country and his own integrity, whatever of it is still left.

    October 11, 2008 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  18. Cathy Agu

    Palin Palin
    Ants in your Pants
    Palin Pants on Pans
    Palin Pants on Pan -Fire....

    October 11, 2008 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  19. CM

    I understand Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia used to be in the KKK and Senator McCain has served with him in the Senate for many years! The KKK is a domestic terrorist organization. Does that mean Senator McCain is and was in bed with terrorists???!!!

    October 11, 2008 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  20. Trang, Fremont, CA

    I don't know George Wallace, but what John Lewis said is right. This is what we have observed – the hate spewed up in the McCain/Palin camp, versus the hope spewed up in the Obama/Biden campaign.

    October 11, 2008 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  21. Brown girl

    I don't think McCain is a racist, I just think he is insensitive. I also think he didn't know his supporters would take it this far. But truth is, sarah palin has been starting a lot of small fires lately, and a lot of people do not follow politics and can't tell the truth from a lie... so Lewis is really right on, and that's too bad for mccain. Because I don't feel his rallies represents the real John McCain. Oh well, go Obama 2008!

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

    I am in full agreement with Mr Lewis. When I look at McCane rallies I expect to see any moment a burning cross because it looks and feel like a KKK rallie!! All they need is the hoods and sheets!!

    October 11, 2008 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  23. floggy

    why is it so shocking? lewis does not attack mccain, he just describes what he sees now and compares it to what he has seen before, which given who he is should be taken into more consideration than mccain's generic beyond pale.

    October 11, 2008 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  24. oh please.

    but calling obama a terrosit because he was "pallin" around with ayers is okay?

    CNN! POST MY COMMENTS. thanks 🙂

    October 11, 2008 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  25. Sandra T

    I absolutely agree with Rep. Lewis. This is the worst campaign I've ever seen. These comments are correct, The inflammatory rhetoric from Senator McCain and Governor Palin are creating an atmosphere of hate and violence.

    October 11, 2008 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
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