CNN's Bennett asked of Lewis' statement about McCain campaign, "Why didn't Obama say it was wrong?" -- but Obama did

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

During postdebate coverage, Bill Bennett asked, "Why didn't [Sen. Barack] Obama say it was wrong?" -- referring to a statement by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) that invoked George Wallace. In fact, during the debate, Obama said of Lewis' statement, "I do think that he inappropriately drew a comparison between what was happening there and what had happened during the civil rights movement, and we immediately put out a statement saying that we don't think that comparison is appropriate."

During CNN's October 15 postdebate coverage, CNN contributor Bill Bennett asked, "Why didn't [Sen. Barack] Obama say it was wrong?" -- referring to an October 11 statement by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) that invoked George Wallace, the segregationist former governor of Alabama, in criticizing "the negative tone of the McCain-Palin campaign." In fact, during the debate, Obama said of Lewis' statement, "I do think that he inappropriately drew a comparison between what was happening there and what had happened during the civil rights movement, and we immediately put out a statement saying that we don't think that comparison is appropriate."

Indeed, in an October 11 statement, Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said:

Senator 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." 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.

From the CNN debate transcript:

Schieffer: Sen. Obama, your campaign has used words like "erratic," "out of touch," "lie," "angry," "losing his bearings" to describe Sen. McCain.

Sen. McCain, your commercials have included words like "disrespectful," "dangerous," "dishonorable," "he lied." Your running mate said he "palled around with terrorists."

Are each of you tonight willing to sit at this table and say to each other's face what your campaigns and the people in your campaigns have said about each other?

And, Sen. McCain, you're first.

McCain: Well, this has been a tough campaign. It's been a very tough campaign. And I know from my experience in many campaigns that, if Sen. Obama had asked -- responded to my urgent request to sit down, and do town hall meetings, and come before the American people, we could have done at least 10 of them by now.

When Sen. Obama was first asked, he said, "Any place, any time," the way Barry Goldwater and Jack Kennedy agreed to do, before the intervention of the tragedy at Dallas. So I think the tone of this campaign could have been very different.

And the fact is, it's gotten pretty tough. And I regret some of the negative aspects of both campaigns. But the fact is that it has taken many turns which I think are unacceptable.

One of them happened just the other day, when a man I admire and respect -- I've written about him -- Congressman John Lewis, an American hero, made allegations that Sarah Palin and I were somehow associated with the worst chapter in American history, segregation, deaths of children in church bombings, George Wallace. That, to me, was so hurtful.

And, Sen. Obama, you didn't repudiate those remarks. Every time there's been an out-of-bounds remark made by a Republican, no matter where they are, I have repudiated them. I hope that Sen. Obama will repudiate those remarks that were made by Congressman John Lewis, very unfair and totally inappropriate.

So I want to tell you, we will run a truthful campaign. This is a tough campaign. And it's a matter of fact that Sen. Obama has spent more money on negative ads than any political campaign in history. And I can prove it.

And, Sen. Obama, when he said -- and he signed a piece of paper that said he would take public financing for his campaign if I did -- that was back when he was a long-shot candidate -- you didn't keep your word.

And when you looked into the camera in a debate with Sen. Clinton and said, "I will sit down and negotiate with John McCain about public financing before I make a decision," you didn't tell the American people the truth because you didn't.

And that's -- that's -- that's an unfortunate part. Now we have the highest spending by Sen. Obama's campaign than any time since Watergate.

Schieffer: Time's up. All right.

Obama: Well, look, you know, I think that we expect presidential campaigns to be tough. I think that, if you look at the record and the impressions of the American people -- Bob, your network just did a poll, showing that two-thirds of the American people think that Sen. McCain is running a negative campaign versus one-third of mine.

And 100 percent, John, of your ads -- 100 percent of them have been negative.

McCain: It's not true.

Obama: It absolutely is true. And, now, I think the American people are less interested in our hurt feelings during the course of the campaign than addressing the issues that matter to them so deeply.

And there is nothing wrong with us having a vigorous debate like we're having tonight about health care, about energy policy, about tax policy. That's the stuff that campaigns should be made of.

The notion, though, that because we're not doing town hall meetings that justifies some of the ads that have been going up, not just from your own campaign directly, John, but 527s and other organizations that make some pretty tough accusations, well, I don't mind being attacked for the next three weeks.

What the American people can't afford, though, is four more years of failed economic policies. And what they deserve over the next four weeks is that we talk about what's most pressing to them: the economic crisis.

Sen. McCain's own campaign said publicly last week that, if we keep on talking about the economic crisis, we lose, so we need to change the subject.

And I would love to see the next three weeks devoted to talking about the economy, devoted to talking about health care, devoted to talking about energy, and figuring out how the American people can send their kids to college.

And that is something that I would welcome. But it requires, I think, a recognition that politics as usual, as been practiced over the last several years, is not solving the big problems here in America.

McCain: Well, if you'll turn on the television, as I -- I watched the Arizona Cardinals defeat the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

Obama: Congratulations.

McCain: Every other ad -- ever other ad was an attack ad on my health care plan. And any objective observer has said it's not true. You're running ads right now that say that I oppose federal funding for stem cell research. I don't.

You're running ads that misportray completely my position on immigration. So the fact is that Sen. Obama is spending unprecedented -- unprecedented in the history of American politics, going back to the beginning, amounts of money in negative attack ads on me.

And of course, I've been talking about the economy. Of course, I've talked to people like Joe the plumber and tell him that I'm not going to spread his wealth around. I'm going to let him keep his wealth. And of course, we're talking about positive plan of action to restore this economy and restore jobs in America.

That's what my campaign is all about and that's what it'll continue to be all about.

But again, I did not hear a repudiation of Congressman...

Obama: I mean, look, if we want to talk about Congressman Lewis, who is an American hero, he, unprompted by my campaign, without my campaign's awareness, made a statement that he was troubled with what he was hearing at some of the rallies that your running mate was holding, in which all the Republican reports indicated were shouting, when my name came up, things like "terrorist" and "kill him," and that you're running mate didn't mention, didn't stop, didn't say "Hold on a second, that's kind of out of line."

And I think Congressman Lewis' point was that we have to be careful about how we deal with our supporters.


McCain: You've got to read what he said...


Obama: Let -- let -- let...

McCain: You've got to read what he said.

Obama: Let me -- let me complete...

Schieffer: Go ahead.

Obama: ... my response. I do think that he inappropriately drew a comparison between what was happening there and what had happened during the civil rights movement, and we immediately put out a statement saying that we don't think that comparison is appropriate.

And, in fact, afterwards, Congressman Lewis put out a similar statement, saying that he had probably gone over the line.

The important point here is, though, the American people have become so cynical about our politics, because all they see is a tit- for-tat and back-and-forth. And what they want is the ability to just focus on some really big challenges that we face right now, and that's what I have been trying to focus on this entire campaign.

From CNN's postdebate coverage:

ROLAND MARTIN (CNN political analyst): But here's the deal. In terms of -- McCain came out very strong. The reality is, when you came to pocketbook issues, Obama scored well. Health care -- numbers off the charts. Scored well -- education. McCain was sort of in the middle. The reality is, McCain, where he failed was when he -- he spent more time talking about John Lewis and wanting an apology then trying to explain what he's going to do to the American people

BENNETT: Well, why didn't he get one? Why didn't he get one?

MARTIN: Well, first of all, call John Lewis if he wants an apology. So, the reality is --

BENNETT: Why didn't Obama say it was wrong?

MARTIN: Because the bottom line is here: If you want to be president, talk to the American people. That's where I think he failed tonight, in that portion right there. He could have had a extremely strong night. He spent far too much time on Ayers and John Lewis.

Bill Bennett
Barack Obama, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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