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. Len in Washington

    My biggest problem with what is currently going at the McCain Rallies is not, necessarily with McCain, but is more with Palin. She is not only over the top in her comments but actually SMILES when the crowd gets it's rowdiest. That is not acceptable behavior from anyone let alone someone reaching for the door handle of our Whitehouse.

    She is not adhearing to the Christian Principals that she wants everyone else to live by.

    It goes with her visable disdain for ethics and honesty.

    October 11, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  2. an EYE FOR an EYE

    Kenyans for Obama October 11th, 2008 3:14 pm ET

    obama-Biden 08

    In Germany, America, or Kenya, we just don't say it's a bad thing to say bad things against someone. We say this:

    It's a death sentence to call someone a terrorist. it's also a death sentence if that is not true and something bad is attempted against that person, because the kings men of that person will defend him to their last drop of breath.

    So fellow Americans, we should be prepared to defend Obama by any means, should any of these rethorics by Palin and co become breathing ground for attempt at Sen. Obama's comfort.

    We want a president who is very comfortable giving this nation its best. We will not stand idlely by watching as the palins of this world intimidate our nation and our people , including its president and thus limiting our potential in this world. we are an independent nation, fighting everywhere in the world for the freedom that we have and may still be denying our own citizens.

    Palin, there will be no place in this world to hide should you or any of those you exited attempted anything on Barack Obama. I will be willing to enlist my life in line to protect this president if his life is in danger , and most americans will too. so take your ugly campaigns and ads off the air.

    You are mistaking america of today with the years of kkk reign. Today, every american is a kkk of his own, if it comes down to defend our nation against bigotry. We are going to defend this nation vigorously against incompetent pretentious and anything goes people like you.

    This nation is founded on liberty and equality. If you can't stomach a black man running for president, you better get back into your iggloo and let the snow do its job.

    October 11, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  3. From the North

    Um. John? Get stuffed. Lewis is absolutely correct. Sadly, you're so afraid of truth that you run from it even when it bites you in the butt – as Mr. Lewis' comments have.

    You, McCain, have behaved shamefully and you have allowed your attack pit bull to behave even worse. Then you pretend you don't know what anybody's talking about.

    Wake up, old man. Your BS is transparent. All of us know what Lewis meant and agree with him. You need to back off and try to behave like the man you claim to be.

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

    John Lewis should not apologize. He is speaking the truth about the McCain campaign. John McCain turned Sarah Palin loose and now he has regrets. Once the bomb expodes, you can't diffuse!!!!
    John McCain need to control his campaign!

    October 11, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  5. Doreen

    When will all this end – so that we can have a President Obama and we don't have to hear this garbage from McCain anymore?

    October 11, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  6. Marla from Florida

    I agree with Rep. Lewis. There is responsibility for McCain and Palin on the tone and content of their speeches. Provoking hate or anger is a dangerous thing. Especially when you are dealing with delicate issues of race, religion or other biased ideas. When you feed people who are intolerant of others and feed into their prejudices and fears you can unleash a monster which can result in horrific results. People who continue to feed hate should be held responsible. And those who act on it should be prosecuted.

    October 11, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  7. Maya

    Bravo Mr. Lewis. You are telling the simple truth.

    October 11, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  8. Honestie

    I don't get it! How can McCain be offended by Senator Lewis' comments when the McCain/P ticket has been doing the same thing. Wait a minute...I get it...Senator Lewis' comments were true and factual and not divisive and inciting. So... McCain didn't get it!

    But really, I hope this M/P ticket does not end up damaging the party so much that my swing vote does not swing in that direction for a long time. What are they so afraid of? Please lets remind them that this great nation was not built on the basis of bravery shown in Vietnam alone. Our greatness is in our people who on a daily basis work hard for a better tomorrow. And somehow all the M/P campaign has shown so far is how much further back their polictics will take America with their divisive rhetoric and lack of comprehension of current economic situations around the country and around the globe.

    October 11, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  9. Cheryl Swindle

    Amen to everything said here! When a rally produces such racist threats/violent speech without correction, it is WRONG, no matter who is involved in the event. I have not seen or heard Palin trying to stop what's happening once, and she HAS to hear what's going on! And McCain's attempt was half-hearted and self-serving. I feel he has a motive for everything he does or says.

    Maybe I'm naive, but even though Obama IS a politician, my instincts tell me he has the people's best interest at heart.

    October 11, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  10. rose

    Rep. Lewis is right. Mccain should get over it. Mccain supporters have been spewing such hatred. It is scary

    October 11, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  11. chris


    and why does OBAMA have to say anything...his disaggreement is with LEWIS NOT OBAMA

    political games MCCAIN keeps playing like THE AMERICAN ppl are IDIOTS.....


    kepp digging ur hole MCCAIN

    October 11, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  12. CindyN--PA

    I live in the Pittsburgh area and was just speaking with my mother in law who lives in Erie PA. She said up in Erie County PA there is a man with a sign in his yard that says, "Vote White, Not Black"...

    So dont tell me that when you have Sarah Palin saying she wants people to connect the dots, that she isnt trying to incite racism into their campaign.

    What they are doing is wrong.
    There is a lot of racism in this country and you dont need to run a campaign that feeds into that kind of mind set.

    October 11, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  13. Stacey

    I'm so glad to see someone call it like it is!! You have to wonder if there aren't some people that would love to see a bullet put an end to this election. If McCain were truly the honorable man he claims to be, he would put an end to the hateful, vicious rhetoric spewing from his campaign. When you amp up fear and rage, violence follows.
    End it NOW!

    October 11, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  14. Sue

    Does McCain/Palin really think we are that stupid. Of course they started all this by planting the seed of hatred. Hello, Pallin has been running around the last two weeks telling some of the most awful character lies in histroy. Duh, don't you think if any of it wee true, we would have heard about it long before when he first got into public service (e.g., Illinois state senate). This is a deplyable way to run a campaign. The only reson why McCain said what he did to the people calling him an "Arab" and statin they were scared is because McCain and Palin are responsible for inciting this and using it as a last resort to win a failed campaign. We have good reason to fear Bush and McCain, but the reationale for fearing Obama is lame. Look what you started McCain. Please, if this is your idea or reaching across the isle, keep your hands in your pockets.

    October 11, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  15. FLDem

    He's crying because Rep. Lewis is telling the truth? LOL.
    Talk about desperate. McCain can have his apology when he apologizes for his supporters shouting hateful threats about Obama.

    October 11, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  16. Ron

    The McCain campaign has been stoking the fires of hatred for weeks with their attempts to tie Obama to terrorists and and anti-American groups – and now they want an apology when one of their own cites a parallel to George Wallace's campaign? The nerve of these people! Palin has been the major force behind creating this venomous political environment. You want an apology? Get it from her!

    October 11, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  17. AH

    I know this will not make it on the comments, because i'm to honest. Palin, and McCain, are spewing hate and their supporters try to justify such desperate behavior! With the world watching we are on trial, if we can't be a democracy then the war is for not!

    October 11, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  18. Lady_Di

    More faked shock and outrage from Moose and Squirrel. Quite frankly I'm SHOCKED, and OUTRAGED!!!

    October 11, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  19. Jen

    Cry me a river John, Congress lock up Karl Rove!!

    October 11, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  20. jams

    Obama – DO NOT SAY A WORD! Lewis is right on!
    McCain and Palin – does the shoe fit? Make sure Cindy tries it on too.

    October 11, 2008 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  21. Betty Jean

    I would say to Sen. McCain and Sarah Palin that the lies and divisive rehtoric that they have been spewing about Sen. Obama is much more hateful than anything John Lewis has said and that they owe Sen. Obama an apology! I agree with what John Lewis said.
    Sarah Palin continues the hateful, racially tainted and distorted lies about Obama!
    All she needs is a white hood!
    Sen. McCain and Sarah Palin...this kind of dirt flinging is taking your campaign down.
    Sarah Palin is very close to insiting violence with her false and racially motivated accusations towards Sen. Obama.
    I am happy to see that Sen. McCain has finally found some honor and has defended Sen. Obama.
    Wake up Sen. Mc Cain and Sarah Palin...what goes around comes around and you both will go down in the flames of your own making!
    We need to focus on the issues and if you can't win on you policies then you don't deserve to win. But at least keep your self respect and your honor in tack!
    Betty Jean

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

    McCain and Palin think people are stupid. That is why they thought they could get away with hate mongering. Although there are many in their base that support this type of behavior and rhetoric, average Americans do not. McCain and Palin remind me of the bully I had to deal with in junior high. She was quick to inflict harm on others but even quicker to cry foul when someone challenged her to the slightest degree. If we elect these clowns we will reep what they have sown.

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

    McCain Wants Obama to step up?????

    Please Mccain, you started this mess, now YOU clean it up.

    October 11, 2008 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  24. Paul Thompson


    Obomba has ties to a known terrorist....sorry...but true.

    So Hillary and Bill had a lot of unexplained people die and lots of women with reports of sexual abuse...you liberals don't care.

    You just attack, attack, attack and then shout racism when it's convenient.

    America is going to be on sorry country with your lead....
    where has two years of democratic house rule gotten us?

    Where were all of you when Alan Keyes was running...it's not
    racism it's ideology...please quit with the race card!

    October 11, 2008 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  25. A Concerned Citizen in NC

    Thank You!!! Thank you so much John Lewis for expressing what so many Americans are feeling as we are watching McCain continue to spiral downward out of control. Obama has not done anything to have to "repudiate" the words of John Lewis.
    If McCain had not used words like "liar, traitor, reckless, dangerous and a terrorist" we as a Country would not be in this divisive position we are right now. If anyone needs to repudiate their words, actions and rhetoric used, it is John McCain himself. The Country is truly worried about the safety of Barak Obama and John McCain is responsible for the climate and should be held completely accountable if anything goes wrong.

    October 11, 2008 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39