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. Praetorian

    There's no hatred for Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain...

    Most of us distrust and dislike both of them.
    America really needs something new...but both these guys are only differentiated by which special interest group has them by the nose.

    The GOP–big business, financial consortiums
    The DEMS–social reform groups, minority ethnic alliances, unions

    October 11, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  2. pattyt

    When this election is over Sara Palin will be forever known as "McCains folly". In addition to revealing to the voters of her own state her personal traits and characteristics that they were unaware of,
    Sara has shown the public what kind of people are drawn to the Republican party. Her ratings in Alaska are down substantially.
    Does anyone think that a true moderate, independent or undecided voter would feel comforatable joining a group that turns a political rally into a lynching party ?

    Palin has gone too far because, quite simply, she is of limited intellect and way out of her league. Of course, given her husband's past affiliation with a separatist group it is not surprising that a predisposition towards violence would be comfortable for her. The findings of her own state legislature say it all – Palin abuses power. If she acts like this now one can only imagine how she would be as Vice President (can anyone say Dick Cheney ?)

    No apology is owed by Lewis or for Lewis. We all saw the rallies. We know what we saw and we know what we heard. If similar epithets were made against Palin and her children as a retalitation for her encouraging this frenzy, a cry would go forth. The difference would be that Obama would never tolerate or encourage it. The people see what has happened – they get it – and they are rejecting it in droves.

    October 11, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  3. Bushwhacked in Eugene, OR

    McCain should do the apologizing - for allowing the audiences to get away with this for days before pretending to calm them down, and for allowing his pit bull to stay out there rousing up the crazies.

    Will it take an attempt on Obama's life for McCain to realize what's happening here? He'll probably just pull the standard GOP 'I'm innocent' routine.

    Yes, a am angry senior white woman disgusted with this ugliness and with Republican party.

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

    Hold on to your hats, folks, this is where it starts to get colorful!

    Everyone here is against McCain and Palin because they dare to ask for answers to questions that should be answered by Obama. Why not? This is for the highest job in the country.
    I think that the McCain supporters are afraid or reluctant to voice their opinion on this site. Mccain in my opinion is not a racist, neither was Bill Clinton when he was charged with the same thing. His supporters have said some pretty harsh things about Obama and McCain did the right thing by putting it down.

    Actually, the worst things that I've read throughout the campaign so far was and is on this blog site. Vitriolic and and pro Obama.....anti McCain. God help us.

    October 11, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  5. lil

    No Sen Obama please dont apologize you have nothing to apologize
    for.If any body know what they are talking about it R Lewis he lived it.

    Well said R Lewis.
    Mccain maybe didnt mean it but Palin did.

    October 11, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  6. ghazi

    McCain recently named John Lewis among the top three wisest people that he knows. Has he forgotten his own words? Maybe he should heed "the wise man."

    October 11, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  7. Larry

    Gov. Palin made a huge mistake by saying that "Sen Obama was pallying around with terrorists". It is a shame that she was trying to hang the label of terrorism on Sen Obama's innocent neck;and all this in a desperate attempt to recover from the hole that their campaign had dug for themselves. Gov. Palin's statement is responsible for the McCain supporters threats and rage against Sen Obama. She is the one who needs to apologize to Sen Obama and the American people. Sen McCain is a victim of his own poor judgement of picking Gov. Palin. He should restrain Gov Palin from further fanning the flame of hatred and igniting violence.

    October 11, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  8. Arabphobia

    IT's getting pretty ugly in American politics these days. I hope the only thing that dies this cycle is the hatred and racism that these people are venting at McCain/Palin rallies

    October 11, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  9. Jim Nelson

    White Anglo Protestant by birth I am, as well a Senior Citizen. The Crecendo of hatred, fear, division, and of course, racism, rammed down our throats by the Republicans has not only divided our country, but has put an enormous strain on our extended families. Am I the only one who can no longer tolerate the family idiots who support in blind faith the Republican Ideology? The phone calls have stopped, the letters are no longer, and I gracefully bow out of family re-unions. Yes, Republican idologists, you are responsible for this destruction as well! Take your hatred elsewhere Nazi, Oh excuse me! I ment Neocon. I was 14th generation American, now I am only Half American, as it is quite evident the neocons benefit by not educating their people. Keep 'em down on the farm, and this tactic will account for about 50% of the vote.

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

    John McCain is now making me physically sick to my stomach.

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

    Look if Gov. Palin can say that Sen Obama Pals around with Bill Ayers Which is not true. Why the uproar if Mr Lewis feels that it reminds him of George Wallace....? If something were to happen to Sen Obama or his family it will be McCain/Palin fault for starting this mess...

    October 11, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  12. Lisa, MD


    October 11, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  13. Indy2008

    McCain/Palin are playing so many games that they don't realize how real this situation is. Their are major nut jobs out their and some people have not come as far as others in their acceptance of all. Just stick to the issues and if you win you win, if you lose then you were not the right person for the job.

    October 11, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |

    one good turn deserves another...
    what goes around comes around.....
    cry me a river....

    MC-STUPID (2000-2008)

    October 11, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  15. McCain!

    Lewis, sit down old man!

    October 11, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  16. Mike D.

    Apologize for nothing...Lewis was right on the money.

    October 11, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  17. Phyllis

    John McSame, you are really out of touch if you didn't know the racial tones in you and that lying Sarah Palin. You will have a race war here because you have let this dumb racist controlling witch lead you. She is no reformer, she is no Chrisitian. She is trailer park trash that you have dug up, and hurt our country with. You are a gambler alright, and you lost this time with this sleeze bag of a woman.

    October 11, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  18. JC

    Too close for comfort, or too much guilt, Senator McCain?

    October 11, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  19. Steve

    His comments are true and on point. The truth hurts sometime and Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin have caused this mess. Don't try to squirm out of it "my friend".

    October 11, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  20. JP

    McCain needs to play fly-on-the-wall at one of Palin's rallys. He will see that John Lewis is right. He made a bg mistake in picking Palin for his running mate.

    October 11, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  21. SK-B

    Did McCain denounce the shout's a "kill him!" in support of McCain's attacks on Obama at a McCain rally?

    October 11, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  22. claudia

    John we saw what you and Palin started and you both smile when they yell KILL HIM,"OFF WITH HIS HEAD",HE IS A ERRORIST" How dare you asking for an apology, you are out of your mind.

    October 11, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  23. bud in NC

    Look. Anyone with an IQ over zero can see that McCain/Palin are trying to inflame vitriol against Obama. But it is just what some hate filled people want. To hear it from Mc/Pa seems to ligitamize it. Sorry so many morons walk this earth. They are pathalogical.

    October 11, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  24. Gordon

    I grew up in New Orleans in the 1940s.

    What Ms. Palin is doing recalls the racism I grew up with.

    October 11, 2008 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  25. purple patriot

    The Republicans can dish it out but they can't take it. Listen to them squeal like stuck pigs – with lipstick.

    October 11, 2008 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
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