John Lewis Plays The George Wallace Card

As we all know by now, Rep. John Lewis made some news on Saturday...ya know, the same John Lewis whom John McCain considers one of his top 3 wisest men ever.

Just so we have a primer for the Sunday talk shows, here's what John Lewis said today about the growing anger and vitriol at McCain/Palin rallies and the candidates' complicity therein:

"What I am seeing reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history," Lewis said in a statement issued today for Politico's Arena forum.  "Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse."

Lewis didn't accuse McCain of imitating Wallace, but suggested there were similarities.

"George Wallace never threw a bomb," Lewis noted.  "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." [...]

"As public figures with the power to influence and persuade, Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all," Lewis said today. "They are playing a very dangerous game that disregards the value of the political process and cheapens our entire democracy. We can do better. The American people deserve better."

The McCain campaign, no doubt grateful for a distraction from the Troopergate ruling, issued a statement challenging Obama to distance himself from Lewis's remarks.

"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," the GOP nominee said in a statement this afternoon.

He added: "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."

Notice that the statement is from John McCain, not a spokesman.

Obama did indeed take issue with Lewis's remarks but did not repudiate all of them. Here's his statement, via a spokesman:

"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."

I can't help but think this is just the distraction John McCain wanted. The media had already begun to report on the anger at McCain rallies and in fact McCain had himself rebuked his own supporters for some of their statements about Barack. McCain was the one in the position of defending his opponent; now Obama is forced to vouch for McCain and Palin's motives. Didn't the power just shift to McCain?

Not to mention, as I said above, the huge distraction this provides from the Trooper Gate decision that came in last night. No doubt the anger at the McCain rallies was going to be central to tomorrow's morning show coverage anyway, but Lewis, it seems to me, has singlehadedly inflated that story and given it newfound legs as he's deflated the Palin abuse of power story in importance.

Tags: Barack Obama, John Lewis, John McCain, Sarah Palin (all tags)

Comments

28 Comments

Re: John Lewis Plays The George Wallace Card

As far as I am concerned Representative Lewis is entitled to say his piece, especially given his perspective.  Maybe he has big-footed a news cycle but he is speaking an essential truth which has been demonstrated in the past and is perhaps worth restating now.  I'm as concerned as anyone about wringing every last drop of goodness from the recent, and abundant, misfortunes and missteps of the McCain campaign but it seems like Lewis is speaking for the historical record, which, election or no, certainly deserves it's proper place in the discourse of the 'public square.'

And his citation as one of the 'three wise men' will no doubt exercise what passes for a sense of irony among the Sunday punditry to our benefit.  As far as I am concerned the response of the Obama campaign was pitch perfect, in any case.

by Shaun Appleby 2008-10-11 11:46PM | 0 recs
Re: John Lewis Plays The George Wallace Card

Well, as far as campaign narratives go your guess is a lot better than mine.

That being said, this issue must be discussed and I see nothing wrong with inflating it and giving it legs. I am beginning to fear for Obama's life. If a few drops in the polls gets McCain to stop with the dangerous tone. I'll gladly take the hit.

by spacemanspiff 2008-10-11 11:46PM | 0 recs
Re: John Lewis Plays The George Wallace Card

I agree.  I am more worried about his life now, than a few weeks ago.  Many African Americans are also very worried about him at this point.      All I can say is that I hope his Secret Service protection is the best there has ever been.

by gavoter 2008-10-12 06:50AM | 0 recs
Re: John Lewis Plays The George Wallace Card

"Didn't the power just shift to McCain?"

I don't think so.

McCain praised Lewis earlier this year, and most people probably were not aware of some of the more hateful remarks people at McCain / Palin campaign events have shouted out. If handled well, McCain might be able to earn a draw, but they are walking a fine line here, and could make matters worse.

Hell, if they go too far, their base might turn on them.

by C S Strowbridge 2008-10-12 01:03AM | 0 recs
Re: John Lewis Plays The George Wallace Card

i think you missed an important point. lewis was referring to McCain, not just the people at his campaign.

by swissffun 2008-10-12 05:41AM | 0 recs
And, that's important...

because Sen. McCain hasn't been rousing the rabble?

by tonedevil 2008-10-12 09:36AM | 0 recs
Re: John Lewis Plays The George Wallace Card

The double standard is rather staggering, and easy to explain.

They're saying that Barack Obama has to personally repudiate a member of his party for saying that his rhetoric is dangerous, but John McCain doesn't have to do the same when his own running mate saying that he pals around with terrorists, or people shouting "kill him" at his rallies?

As a matter of fact, all criticisms made by the Obama campaign towards what's going on at McCain/Palin rallies draws angry rebukes from the McCain campaign about how Obama is "attacking" his hard working, American supporters.

Obama has surrogates and they should make that argument.  As far as his own response, it was just fine.

by Jess81 2008-10-12 01:19AM | 0 recs
Re: John Lewis Plays The George Wallace Card

Troopergate wasn't going anywhere because the press isn't interested in accountability from Gov. Palin, just soundbites, and the Obama camp isn't stupid enough to go to war over this (at least not this weekend).

Troopergate is what it is, and by itself won't shift any votes.  But it's there if Obama wants to use it (like say, at a debate perhaps?).

Here's all you need to know about the McCain/Lewis kerfuffle.  At the Saddleback forum, John McCain named Georgia Representative John Lewis, a longtime civil rights icon who suffered a vicious racially motivated attack in the 60's, one of the three people in the world that he would turn to first for advice.  Shortly after that, we found out from Lewis himself that despite the two men having spent decades in Washington together, John McCain had never once sought out Lewis for advice.  Taking McCain at his word, you could only assume that were Rep. Lewis to offer his advice, McCain would only be happy to accept.  After all, this is what he told a group of God-fearing church people.

Now that John Lewis has offered his advice to McCain on a topic that few men in the entire county would have more insight on, how has John McCain reacted?  He rejected it out of hand, called it an attack on his character, and called on Obama to repudiate a man that McCain himself had called one of the three wisest people he knew.

Now do you see what's going on here Todd?

by hello world 2008-10-12 02:13AM | 0 recs
Re: John Lewis Plays The George Wallace Card

That was my exact read, as well.

by Dreorg 2008-10-12 06:25AM | 0 recs
I hink it needed to be said

With the history being as it is, the danger of some radical rightwing outting those words into action is very real and should not be ignored.

by ann0nymous 2008-10-12 03:10AM | 0 recs
Re: John Lewis Plays The George Wallace Card

And again, I don't see how this is just the distraction McCain wanted.  What's the spectacle here, "Hey American, check out my batshit rallies."?

by Jess81 2008-10-12 03:24AM | 0 recs
How soon we forget

Doesn't anyone remember the flack McCain got for endorsing and speaking on behalf of George Wallace Jr. just a few years ago? This guy was supposedly rehabilitated, and yet was "palling around" with the racist CCC. I don't think McCain was ever forced to repudiate him for it either.

by lynfidel 2008-10-12 03:45AM | 0 recs
Re: John Lewis Plays The George Wallace Card

Todd, I think you are over-analyzing and thinking too much.  I don't think McCain is sitting around going "thank God Rep. Lewis made that statement.  Now people will stop talking about the lunies at my rallies and instead compare me to George Wallace, bombing schools, and other who have incited riots.  Wonderful!"

In reality, the race card had been played so much this election that I daresay it isb no longer the Achilles heel to Obama that people think it is.  In this case, clearly Lewis and Obama are responding to a valid and unambiguous problem, not some "he said, she said" situation.  McCain is trying to say that there's no reason to bring race into this, there clearly was.

Obama played this right, give Lewis a light tap on the butt for going a bit far, but providing him plenty of aid and cover to continue the assault one step removed from Obama.  

by tlhwraith 2008-10-12 05:27AM | 0 recs
John Lewis warns America

Some time we get so involved in the everyday Politics that we miss the "Forrest for the trees". Lewis is genuinely concerned for Obama's safety. Me too! I lived through the Violence of the Civil Rights movement, the assinations of John f Kennedy, Martin Luther KIng and Robert F. Kennedy. Lewis's warnings about the kinds of danger's arising from the McPalins incitement are not to be taken lightly and certainly trump any worries over the Political negatives they may have on Obama's campaign. I'm sure there are just the right amount of violent psychopaths on the right that attend Mcinsains rallies. All it takes is  just one to be inspired to take the next step and reach for his high powered sniper rifle.

by eddieb 2008-10-12 05:29AM | 0 recs
"Forrest for the trees"

as in Nathan Bedford Forrest? If that was intentional, kudos for a most excellent pun. If not, they kudos for a most fortuitous typo.

by itsthemedia 2008-10-12 12:41PM | 0 recs
Re: John Lewis Plays The George Wallace Card

I gotta agree with the above...

1) We got everything we were going to get out of Troopergate, unless Todd Palin starts calling news conferences.  People either believe it or they don't.  Most everyone had already made up their mind that Palin did something wrong, and the people who thought otherwise are resistant to facts anyhow.

2) Any day that McCain has to spend distancing himself from his own supporters is a good day for Obama.  There is no "win" in this for McCain, there is only "less bad" if he ever manages to rein in the kooks.  Most ordinary Americans are disgusted by the racism, and to be honest, maybe when "low-information voters" see the blatant racism, they stop and ask themselves "gosh, I'm better than these people - right?"

I have to imagine that McCain was hoping that Troopergate would be a distraction from Lynchmobgate, not the other way around.

by auronrenouille 2008-10-12 05:33AM | 0 recs
Re: John Lewis Plays The George Wallace Card

Somehow I don't think that McCain wants to keep mentioning that he's being compared to George Wallace.  I agree with the others here that you're overthinking this one.  If anything, a little exaggeration keeps the focus on all the nuts that McCain's tactics are stirring up.  Plus, it makes McCain seem like a weasel when he implores Obama to distance himself from the remarks on the one hand, while on the other McCain keeps up his multi-million dollar effort to tie Obama to "domestic terrorists."

by rfahey22 2008-10-12 06:36AM | 0 recs
Overthought

When I first saw the Lewis story, I didn't think much of it.  True, it may get Obama caught up in a racial/cultural discussion and off message, but think this kerkuffle will be forgotten as quickly as Troopergate.

Neither story is going to move the needle much, unless Obama spends too much time with it.

Next case.

by esconded 2008-10-12 06:52AM | 0 recs
Re: John Lewis Plays The George Wallace Card

Representative Lewis was correct to raise the issue on the merits.  Our nation's history demands no less.

On the politics, it is a net plus for Barack Obama, because it introduces the Republican nominee to yet another no-win situation (the economy and Bush's poll ratings being the first two).  If John McCain throttles back the personal vitriol, as he tried to do late last week, he'll continue to get booed at his own rallies.  If McCain does not, Lewis' point is proven doubly.  

Besides, Sarah Palin's qualified/unqualified numbers, as reprted on MTP, are 39/55 (a Newsweek poll, I beleive).  Troopergate is icing on a cake that has already been baked for us - the candles will be forthcoming soon.  

by CLLGADEM 2008-10-12 07:24AM | 0 recs
Re: John Lewis Plays The George Wallace Card
"the candles will be forthcoming soon"
lol. So true
by nzubechukwu 2008-10-12 09:59AM | 0 recs
Lindsay Graham

Here is what is on pollster.com

Referring to the comments made by Rep John Lewis yesterday, Senator Graham said "we're not going to be intimidated by this playing the race card...it may have worked with the Clintons but it's not going to work with us.  We can't be responsible for what one person says at a rally," he added. "But John McCain has never conducted himself to incite hatred."

The key phrase may be the "may have worked with the Clintons but it's not going to work with us."

I agree with Nate Silver (though Silver still hasn't conceded he was wrong when he moronically stated that Kentucky is the same as Tennessee) in the sense that Obama should have probably come out stronger against Lewis to nip this story in the bud.  McCain seems to want to play and he'll use what happened against the Clintons as his defense in my opinion.

Three-day story at best until the debate.

by Blazers Edge 2008-10-12 07:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Lindsay Graham

Graham's response does tend to support Todd's reading, and Noam Scheiber's 'racial bankshot' theory, but I wonder.  As Noam said himself:


I'd just add that, even if McCain had a bankshot strategy in place here, it seems to have gotten away from him a bit, as reflected in the need to repudiate supporters.

Noam Scheiber - Is John McCain Attempting a Racial Bankshot? New Republic 11 Oct 08

Furthermore if the McCain campaign is applying this assumed level of subtlety to the character aspects of their campaign while flailing around so helplessly, and embarrassingly, on economic issues then it seems they are so out of touch with the electorate they will continue to do themselves more damage than otherwise.  And every new move he makes just amplifies the 'erratic' narrative which has taken firm hold in the media, and the minds of voters.

by Shaun Appleby 2008-10-12 08:15AM | 0 recs
Actually, this is NOT about race
I do not think this is really about race. I had not thought of the Civil Rights analogy until John Lewis used it. Instead, Palin's recent rallies reminded me of the American version of Hitler's rallies. Delivered with American folksiness and a big smile, we see the same hate-mongering, fear-mongering, and incendiary speeches intended to incite the crowds.


The right wing has done this before, and it resulted in assassinations at abortion clinics.The media appear relieved that she is no longer ranting about Ayers and terrorists. Note that she has now switched the topic to abortion.


 Why does it take waiting for John Lewis to state this publicly? The rest of us "ordinary folks" can see it plain as day, but the media keep down playing it. The McCain campaign is not only playing with fire; they seem to be inciting potential assassins.

by Akamai 2008-10-12 10:11AM | 0 recs
Re: John Lewis Plays The George Wallace Card

McCain and Palin tactics are stirring a hornet nest of republican extremist.  Nuts that yell "kill him" and McCain or Palin do nothing to calm this rhetoric.  If the unthinkable should happen to Obama they are to blame and should be held responsible and equally guilty as the perpetrator.

by hlc360 2008-10-12 12:31PM | 0 recs
Re: John Lewis Plays The George Wallace Card

Lewis is simply incorrect to imply the McCain Palin attacks on Obama are racial in nature. They are really standard operating procedure for Republican campaigns going back to Nixon. McGovern was as white as can be, yet he was certainly painted as not a "real" American, and possibly a traitor. More recently, Gore and Kerry got the same treatment.

If a white Democrat was running 8 points ahead, and had some association (however tenuous) with Ayers, I have zero doubt that the Republicans would be using the exact same attack lines. Guilt by association is what they do. The only remarkable thing this year is that their candidate actually seems to be a little bit uncomfortable about the tactic. (Maybe that is just for show, I am not a mind reader.)

I also agree with other commenters that Obama's response is just right. He does not want or need to make this into a Black vs. White thing right now, but he also took the opportunity to point out that the attacks against him are a desperate attempt to change the subject from the real issues. Even if I agreed with Lewis wholeheartedly, I would say that keeping the discussion on the economy and avoiding divisive stuff like this is the right strategy. Just run strong and get across the finish line.

by itsthemedia 2008-10-12 12:58PM | 0 recs
Re: John Lewis Plays The George Wallace Card

This seems like a disaster for McCain to me. The last thing he wants is his crowds to be the story. Plus, it cuts into any argument that he is trying to make that he would be the less 'divisive' candidate.

Even if you believe McCain wants these stories in the news, the point of running a dog-whistle campaign is to have a message that is only picked up by the people you want to pick it up. If it becomes the story, it is no longer as useful.

McCain is in a terrible position - his hope was to not have to speak on this at all. Once he has to denounce it, it blunts the message. But if he has to explicitly make the attacks, he looks petty.

The way things are going now, he may end up in the worst of both worlds - he already had to denounce the attacks, and now his base may make him make the attacks during the next debate.

by alchemi 2008-10-12 01:01PM | 0 recs
Re: John Lewis Plays The George Wallace Card

Why did you call it the George Wallace card? Todd, in fact you know that it was just another clumsy and unfortunate use of the "race card", which is precisely what McCain wants.  John Lewis is one of my heroes and I have an autographed copy of his autobiography.  I love to hear him tell his story about how he used to preach to the chickens in the chicken coop when he was a boy, and how that taught him to be an orator.  But he screwed up royally yesterday with his Wallace statement, and it's a good thing that the race isn't that tight or else he would have been the cause of a disaster.

by bslev22 2008-10-12 01:30PM | 0 recs
Don't worry

The stock market is going to slump again first thing in the morning, and that will continue to be the top story.

Feel better now?

by PDiddie 2008-10-12 02:30PM | 0 recs

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