The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – U.S. Rep. John Lewis on Tuesday said he had no regrets for claiming that Republican rhetoric in the presidential contest reminded him of words spoken by segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace — but he admitted that he could have made his point “in a different way.”
“I do not regret what I said,” Lewis said. “Maybe it could have been said in a different way, because it was not suggesting that John McCain or Sarah Palin was closely related [in] any way to the actions of Governor Wallace.”
Said the Atlanta congressman and Civil Rights icon: “It was all about what I call toxic speech — statements [and] an audience that can unleash bitterness and hatred. And I don’t need anyone to lecture me about my feelings, or what I have observed for more than 50 years.”
Last week, in the face of declining polls, Republicans concentrated on Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and what they called issues of character — and what Democrats called “code words” for race.
Palin in particular repeatedly criticized Obama for “palling around with terrorists.”
“This is not a man who sees America like you and I see America,” she said.
On Saturday, Lewis rocked the presidential campaign with his statement that McCain and Palin “are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse.
“During another period, in the not too distant past, there was a governor of the state of Alabama named George Wallace who also became a presidential candidate.”
In the statement, Lewis linked Wallace’s language to the1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four little girls.
McCain immediately called Lewis’ remarks “beyond the pale” and called on Obama to repudiate them. The Republican presidential candidate continued to fume on Monday. “It’s unfair. It’s unfair and it’s outrageous,” McCain told CNN.
The Obama campaign said any comparisons to Wallace were out of line, but also said that “Lewis was right to condemn some of the hateful rhetoric that John McCain himself personally rebuked.”
Lewis made his Tuesday remarks at Spelman College, after the unveiling of a video documenting the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march and the confrontation at the Edmund Pettus bridge between Alabama state troopers and 600 African-American demonstrators.
Speaking with reporters, the congressman said that a comparison that wouldn’t have injected racial images into the 2008 presidential race would have been the McCarthy era of the 1950s and the accusations of “guilt by association” that marked the period.