Opinion: What John Lewis’ attack on John McCain was really about, and Obama’s response


This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

With the number of preelection days dwindling and tempers rising, we had more of the predictable homestretch toing-and-froing over campaign attacks Saturday.

Someone on Side A says something that Side B can seize upon and criticize to create a fight, which the media much prefers covering with military verbiage because it’s bored hearing the standard stump speeches so often.


And that puts Side A momentarily on the defensive while it ‘admonishes’ its overzealous supporter, even though, if anyone told the truth -- which they won’t -- they’re delighted to have the suggestion out there as long as it can’t be traced back to HQ.

If these campaigns had referees, they’d be calling offsetting penalties every day now. And we have 24 more of these to watch.

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) likened the politics of Arizona Sen. John McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to segregationist former Alabama Gov. George Wallace.

McCain shot back his longstanding admiration of civil rights pioneer Lewis but said it was ridiculous to equate legitimate criticism of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and his policies with Wallace and constituted ‘a brazen and baseless attack on ...

... my character and the thousands of hardworking Americans who come to our events.’

McCain called on Obama to repudiate the attack, which the Democratic presidential nominee’s campaign didn’t really do later in the day.

Even if spontaneous, it’s all part of the good-cop-bad-cop PR trench warfare, Washington gridlock politics played out on a larger national stage.

Lewis took the occasion of McCain himself admonishing his supporters Friday night to cool it in their shouted distaste for the Democratic ticket.

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 only desired to exercise their constitutional right.’


He said McCain and Palin are ‘playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all.’

McCain’s side fired back (note the military term) that Lewis’ assault (again) was a character attack ‘shocking and beyond the pale.’

Later Saturday, Obama’s camp shot up a flare to disassociate itself from the worst of Lewis’ statement, while not really rebuking the political ally who had turned his back on the Clintons so helpfully at just the right time during the primary season. But it added a qualifier to allow the odor of Lewis’ remarks to linger.

‘Sen. Obama does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies,’ said the campaign statement. But wait! There’s more:

‘John Lewis was right to condemn some of the hateful rhetoric that John McCain himself personally rebuked just last night.’

Bottom line: Just like World War I, artillery back and forth. The trenches didn’t move any. But unlike that military stalemate, this election race has a predetermined end. Both sides fed their troops some angry propaganda Saturday to keep them outraged and fired up out there on the front lines.


Most of us watched from the sidelines, shaking our heads and wondering over the persistent absence of serious discussion beyond bumper-sticker sound bites.

And McCain has one less day to change the game’s momentum.

-- Andrew Malcolm

Don’t miss a single shot in the remaining election battles and aftermath. Go to Twitter here and register for free instant alerts sent straight to your cell of every new Ticket item the moment it’s published.