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. If Obama Loses

    They'll be rioting in the streets! Kind of like they did in L.A. after Rodney King got his butt kicked.

    October 11, 2008 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  2. Please mamma no obama

    The vitriol from the obamasans never end. It's ok for slimey comments to ooze from the left but any hint of the truth from the right that even hints at black vs white is immediately tagged as racist. I guess when your candidate has nothing to stand on but race the card has to played over and over.

    October 11, 2008 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  3. Cheryl

    Rep. Lewis is, sadly, correct. You know, I honestly believe that McCain is a better person that what he's shown over this campaign. But Palin, no, I'm convinced she is every bit as ugly, bigoted and hateful as what we've all had the misfortune to witness.

    October 11, 2008 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  4. Mia and Mike

    Barack, please do not repudiate John Lewis' statements. They are head on, and I am glad he had the courage to come out and say them.

    Mike P

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

    The McCain-Palin crowds have been unruly and very disturbing.

    Glad to see on the news that the my hometown crowd in Davenport, Iowa behaved themselves.

    October 11, 2008 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  6. Caleb

    Just like the GOP, hurl incendiary remarks for a week, incite fear to the point that their supporters are calling for violence, and when some one calls them out on it they feign some moral outrage and demand a retraction or repudiation of what was said. There is no greater example of coniving, decietful, hypocrasy than the McCain campaign.

    October 11, 2008 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  7. Priscilla

    McCain/Palin are the opitomy of lies and spreading hatred. Obama doesn't have anything to do with this statement. McCain/Palin, over the past week, have sown seeds of hatred and it is disturbing. McCain is very much erratic and I don't trust him. Palin is in denial, McSame is suffering from Dementia, and Obama is the only steady hand in this election.

    Go Obama!

    October 11, 2008 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  8. Jasmine in Germany

    No, Obama should not repudiate Lewis's comments. McCain should look in the mirror and review how he has run his campaign. He made his bed, now he must sleep in it.

    October 11, 2008 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  9. PUMBU

    Mccain is saying what? He should actually apologize for insulting American people by choosing Palin.

    October 11, 2008 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  10. prairieguy

    McShame you said at Saddleback that Lewis is a friend...pick up the phone yourself and call him...oh that's right you have never called him before!!!!

    I agree with what he said...look at Palin's comments this past week as well as your ads!!!!

    October 11, 2008 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  11. JayInNewHampshire

    Does anyone know who Lewis is speaking to?

    October 11, 2008 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  12. Chanda-Cincinnati

    I would not necessiarily caompare McCain/Plain to Wallace, but there is no denying the fact that the nonsense that is coming from their campaign stomps are being fueld by the allegations, inuendos, and often flat out lies, taht they keep repeating. I work in Northern Kentucky, and i ahve had Clinton, Kerry, and Gore sitckers on my car with no problem. When I put an Obama sticker on my car, its been ripped off, spray painted black. Every time they deface one, i put another on. There are some sick individuals in this country, and McCain and Palin have brought oput the best of the worst. I think McCain knows this, that's why he tried to speak calm to the crowd in Minnesota. Both sides have some radical supporters, but when people start screaming "Kill Him" in the middle of your rallies, enough is enough. Never before have I seen this type of reaction, and one can only conclude that race plays a part.

    October 11, 2008 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  13. "ROB"


    October 11, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  14. Mel

    This is a legit way to look at the rhetoric coming out of Palins mouth this week; some words can do damage which can take decades to repair. For people at Mccains rallies to announce that they are fearful to have their newborn live under an Obama presidency is a profound example of what divisive words can do.....

    October 11, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  15. Bettie

    John..u are not fooling us...you are only fooling yourself and your st..p supporters. Who knows nothing!! You are lying over and over and over again!!! My god u need to stop lying...McCain liar liar liar liar liar NO words express how sad to see a man your age who run for president, will act like a baby whose toy about to be taken away!!! I am speechless how you are behaving Mr. john McCain....if you lose this election, lose it with respect....now you are losing your respect as well...good luck. .

    October 11, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  16. me in md

    From reading the article, John Lewis said nothing that needs repudiating. He spoke only the truth about the McCain/Palin rallies that were held this last week.

    October 11, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  17. Fareesh

    The headline for this story is misleading on the home page.

    October 11, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  18. Ali

    The other shoe just droped. I corrected a supporter by calling you a decent man. Now you admonish the civil rights activist for complaining that my actions may have fanned a long simmering fire.

    October 11, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  19. I Just Said Thanks, but No Thanks to Another 4 Years of g.o.p. corruption, arrogance and incompetence

    Lewis is correct. The hatred against Obama at these rallies and the way Palin smiles after the shouts of "Terrorist" or "Kill Him" are chilling reminders of the 1968 when Wallace ran a racist third party campaign and 1972 when Nixon and the G.O.P. used the "Southern Strategy" to sow fear in the minds of the "white" voter.

    No more, my friends.


    October 11, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  20. Sr. Moments on the trail

    How in the world can John McCain call for someone to repudiate comments when he has not repudiated any of the comments that have been spewed from his campaign, he has come off as condoning these hatred remarks by not saying a thing, the seeds have been sown and now his campaign is reaping the benefits, he yearning to be the leader of this great country took to long to make a stance on these comments and has not shown me that he is ready to lead us, with anything economy war nothing his erratic behavior scares me more than Obama ever has.

    Sr. Moments you first

    October 11, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  21. Rob

    This issue is so one-sided! Why aren't we talking about the racism and hatred spewed by Farrakhan and Wright. They are just as bad as the KKK

    October 11, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  22. dee

    just 24 day and this will all be over.

    That one/Biden08

    October 11, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  23. James, Suwanee GA

    Everything seems to be fair in politics until you pay the ultimate price.
    Sadly that price has to be paid by the general public who themselves are responsible to create such an environment backing one side or the other.

    If this happens I guess the fall of the Americas is going to accelerate. We are falling but there is a hope to arrest this fall. If we stoop like any other nation in the world well than we can see their history and easily imagine where we are heading for !

    October 11, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  24. jt

    interesting that the reason mccain finally attempted to stop his supporters is when the secret service got on him about it and started to investigate. how can you be a man of honor and intentionally whip up these people to the point that they want to kill and or hurt an innocent man simply because he wants to be president of the great united states of america?

    October 11, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  25. JeepRover

    I don't think McCain "get's it"-to borrow his own words. That is not what Congressman Lewis meant at all by his statement. The statement was inferring to the recent comments at rallies held by both Palin and McCain by his supporters. In both instances, neither Palin or McCain stopped the comments or made comment to the otherwise at the beginning-thus inviting more comments from the hatemongers. If you don't say something to the contrary, then it is easily surmised you are for the comment. It wasn't until a recent rally that McCain finally decided to bring his campaign slightly back on track. McCain should be the one apologizing for lying to the American people. He's the one not running a campaign based on the issue-because on those he can't win. His only winning acheivement is his military record. That was over almost 40 years ago.

    October 11, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
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