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. Joe

    McCain and Palin should be the people apologizing . They knew what they were doing. They are a disgrace.

    October 11, 2008 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  2. McCan't

    His comments aren't beyond the pale. It's true, McCain...you're actions have been fanning the flames of hate and you should be the one to apologize. Someone, either you or someone else in your campaign, is responsible for this hatred.

    Don't try and deflect your own responsibility. You're words are the cause of this horrible political climate.

    October 11, 2008 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  3. Peace Be Still!

    I think Rep. Lewis is simply saying the rhetorics Sen.Mcain and Gov.Pallin say in their rallies could lead to sth they didnt plan for.In other words Sen.Mcain and Pallin might not be aware the effects their rhetorics might have...He's not saying Mcain and Pallin are doing this intentionally.

    October 11, 2008 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  4. Allie

    The rage displayed at McCain's rallies reminds me of the photos and films I have seen from the 1960s. It disgusts me; it frightens me and it makes me deeply ashamed to be an American.

    McCain's refusal to repudiate the comments of his supporters and his refusal to pull the ads which incite this kind of anger say a great deal about his character.

    Lewis was honest in his appraisal; many, many Americans see McCain for what he is: someone who is willing to exploit racism and the ugliest aspects of America to further his own ambitions. McCain is not the man who should lead America into the 21st century.

    October 11, 2008 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  5. Jeff in Arizona

    It is time that McCain and Palin wake up, listen to themselves, and to the way they have stirred up their ignorant band of supporters and realize that their actions and statements are truly of a terrorist nature. Senator McCain, I realize that you made comments that people should not be afraid if (should have been "when") Senator Obama is President, but watching those rallies, it is clear that you are only saying that in a very feeble and transparent attempt to make yourself look good. And for you, Governor Palin...wow...you are the most bigoted, racist, ignorant politician to come along in many, many years.

    October 11, 2008 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  6. Hatemongering Has No Place in this Campaign

    Congresman Lewis, THANK YOU! It is about time someone with some credibility spoke out on this issue. McCain has gone way over the line. I am praying for the safety of the Democratic candidates, their staffs and all of their supporters. McCain is old enough to know better than to stir up this kind of hate!

    October 11, 2008 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  7. Jeff M.

    The truth hurts doesn't it John?
    When people yell "terrorist", "off with his head" and "Kill him" at these events and you say nothing then what do you expect?
    A timid "Let's all be respectful" just doesn't cut it.

    October 11, 2008 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  8. ac

    How about starting with repudiating the venom coming from you, your pitbull, your ads, your talk-jock buddies, your friends at Faux News and your army of pitch-fork yielding angry mobs?

    Oh, that's right. Reading off that list would take longer than you have left until the elections.

    Yet another amazing departure from reality by McKlan/Palin.

    October 11, 2008 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |

    now he is crying foul! whatz going on in this guy's brain? u think u can play dirty? with a man from the ghetto? u're missing it. bring it on and lets see who will cry. "we will kill you softly"

    OBAMA/BIBEN 2008-2016

    October 11, 2008 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  10. chris


    horrible MCCAIN


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

    Obama supporters kept attacked people with hated words, (so far 9 people) use the hated word, and they get away with it... They should get threw away from what they has been spoken.

    I started to lost in respect with Obama and their groups, Even I am D... Effective today, I will vote McCain.

    October 11, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  12. Roadysf

    I guess Barack can tell John Lewis that he's wrong; McCain and Palin's comments really don't remind Lewis of George Wallace's statements.

    Funny thing though – as a white guy in my mid-50's, McCain and Pailin's comments reminded me of George Wallace as well.

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

    Tell it like it is Mr. Lewis. I agree with "NOT4MoreYears :

    October 11th, 2008 3:49 pm ET
    Way to go Lewis. It's high time somebody called McCain and Palin on this inflammatory rhetoric. This cannot stand.

    October 11, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  14. Sean

    It's true. No need to repudiate it. Everyone knows it, you just got called out on it.

    October 11, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  15. Phil Newton in Murphy, Oregon

    "Shocking and beyond the pale?"

    What about the screaming DEATH THREATS at McCain/Palin rallies?

    Repudiate THAT, my friend.

    Obama should repudiate nothing.

    Lewis spoke the truth.

    October 11, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  16. judy

    Just more MkKKain slime, and this is the "little man" who spouts his patriotism and so-called honor!

    October 11, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  17. Jessica in CA

    What's occuring at the rallies scares me and I'm beginning to grow concerned for Obama's safety. A clip was played of John McCain at one of his rallies after he asked the questions "Who is Barack Obama?" there was a whole lot of shouting, but 'terrorist' was one of the few audible comments I could make out. You should have seen McCain's face; he made this face that he was surprised and unsettled by their reactions. I think what's going on right now is that McCain is concerned that he will have to end the 'smear campaign' as it seems to be irresponsible and may incite violence, and as he can't win on the issues he will be painted into a corner. Not looking good for McCain right now. And god help him if one of his followers takes attempts an attack against Barack Obama. Very scary stuff.

    October 11, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  18. Larry-Minn.

    The only thing that hasnt been proven, Was the people actually republicans that shouted out or plants from the democrats to disrupt ? Maybe this should be checked out before accusing...which is normal for the democrats.

    October 11, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  19. Deb, Allentown, PA

    McCain's allowed his running mate to spout the divisive comments that begin this downward spiral, and then stood idly by while people in the McCain/Palin rallies shouted out their threats and horrible comments toward Obama. Yet McCain is shocked at Lewis calling a spade a spade? I'm not.

    If you can't stand the heat, maybe you shouldn't have walked into the kitchen to begin with, eh McCain?

    October 11, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  20. Spencer

    "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.

    Does anyone see the irony in this statement?

    October 11, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  21. antwan

    I was really saddened to hear McCain asking Obama to repudiate the comments of Mr. Lewis. This is very hypocritical when McCain allowed hate inspired comments to be made at his rallies. This is very hypocritical of McCain. As far as the race card.....McCain and Palin need to take a good look in the mirror.

    October 11, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  22. Lydia

    Congressman Lewis is absolutely correct and Senator O'bama has no reason, whatsoever , to repudiate Lewis's foresightfulness about the the harvest that will grow from the seeds of hate and fear being planted by the McCain presidential team.

    October 11, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  23. johnnypunani

    Thank you Lewis, you are absolutely correct. McCain and Palin brought this upon themselves. There is no reason Obama needs rupidiate the remarks by Lewis. They are absolutely truthful. McCain shouldn't run such a filthy campaign if he doesn't want people to make these kinds of remarks.

    October 11, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  24. Hillary Supporter

    In these last weeks as John Mc Cain is losing in the polls , EVERY ONE of his town hall meetings is LIKE A HATE MEETING . HOW DISGUSTING. He is ERATIC and he IS SHOWING IT EVERY DAY. His VP Palin was FOUND GUILTY OF ABUSING her POWER . Can she be TRUSTED WITH THE POWER OF VP OR PRESIDENT? The answer is NO,NO,NO!!!!!!!.

    October 11, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  25. Greg, Atlanta

    Rep. Lewis did not make these comments on behalf of Sen. Obama, therefore Obama does not have to repudiate anything. Sen. McCain is being a hypocrite...he has not repudiated all of the nauseating things that his supporters have said. And, until MCCain does so, which would be a daunting task, Obama does not need to respond whatsoever.

    Sen. McCain, you created this maelstrom, you now have to ride it out.

    October 11, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
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