Politico: McCain warned on race card

Politico

McCain warned on race card

The name of George Wallace, who died in 1998, was invoked a few days ago by Rep. John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia and a civil rights leader. Lewis likened the rhetoric of Wallace to the rhetoric of John McCain and Sarah Palin. 

“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 said. “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, Ala. 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.” 

It was a shocking statement. (And it was meant to shock.) McCain was stunned. In August, at a public forum, McCain had named Lewis as one of the “wisest” people he knew and a person he would “rely on heavily” during his administration. 

McCain issued a very tough statement in reply to Lewis’ remarks, saying the comments were “beyond the pale” and that Lewis had made a “brazen and baseless attack” on McCain’s character and the character of his supporters. McCain then called on Barack Obama to “repudiate these outrageous and divisive comments,” even though Obama had not made them. 

Obama obliged — in part. Bill Burton, spokesman for Obama, said: “Sen. Obama does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies. 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.’” 

That latter reference was to ’60s radical William Ayers, a line of attack the McCain campaign has been pursuing with vigor recently. What McCain has not been pursuing, to the consternation of some of his supporters, is an attack on Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. 

On the face of it, attacking Obama on Wright makes more sense than attacking him on Ayers. Obama was much closer to Wright and Wright’s statements are much more recent than Ayers’ actions. 

But McCain is resisting. So far. He wants to get out of this presidential race without being accused of racism. 

And that was the point of John Lewis’ very strong statement. Lewis was issuing a warning to McCain. 

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