Rep. John Lewis Was Right

June 11, 2009 10:46 am ET — Chris Harris

Rep. John Lewis, along with the Department of Homeland Security, was able to foresee the dangers associated with the hateful rhetoric of the extreme right.  They recognized that the same emotions that prompted some to yell "kill him!" at a campaign rally may potentially lead others to violence.

Rep. John Lewis Warned About "Sowing The Seeds Of Hatred"

"Kill him!"

"Off with his head!"

"Terrorist!"

"Traitor"

"Liar!"

"Sit down, boy!"

Every one of those inflammatory outbursts was shouted during rallies for the McCain-Palin campaign.  Recognizing a dangerous trend, Rep. John Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights movement, released a statement warning the campaign about the risks of "sowing the seeds of hatred and division."

Rep. Lewis said:

As one who was a victim of violence and hate during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, I am deeply disturbed by the negative tone of the McCain-Palin campaign.  What I am seeing reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history.  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.

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.  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, 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.  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.

Lewis later elaborated, "my statement was a reminder to all Americans that toxic language can lead to destructive behavior."

At the time, Sen. McCain condemned Lewis for his, "brazen and baseless attack on my character and the character of the thousands of hardworking Americans."

Seven months after Rep. Lewis' statement, his remarks do not seem "brazen" or "baseless."

Rep. Lewis, along with the Department of Homeland Security, was able to foresee the dangers associated with such rhetoric.  They recognized that the same emotions that prompted some people opposed to Sen. Obama's candidacy to yell "kill him!" at a campaign rally may potentially lead others to violence.

In just the past few months, hate-filled Americans have carried out numerous acts of violence against innocent Americans, including immigrants, police officers, churchgoers and a doctor.  The violence continued yesterday when an 88-year-old white supremacist entered the Holocaust Museum and killed a security guard.

Without doubt, the McCain-Palin campaign doesn't bear responsibility for the recent uptick in violence, but the underlying hate they refused to condemn does.

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