Back in August, Republican presidential candidate John McCain stunned the audience at Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Forum by citing Democratic Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis as one of the "wisest people that you know that you would rely on heavily in an administration." On Saturday, Lewis offered McCain some sage advice - and a stern warning - about the disgusting turn his increasingly ugly campaign had taken. Unsurprisingly, the supposed maverick shunned his supposed adviser's wisdom that the McCain campaign and its Republican allies were "playing with fire" by "sowing the seeds of hatred and division."
At Warren's Saddleback event with Barack Obama this summer, McCain surprised many by adding Lewis to a troika of trusted advisers featuring the usual suspects General David Petraeus and former Bay CEO Meg Whitman:
WARREN: This first question deals with leadership and the personal life of leadership. First question, who were the three wisest people that you know that you would rely on heavily in an administration?
MCCAIN: [...] I think John Lewis. John Lewis was at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Had his skull fractured. Continues to serve. Continues to have the most optimistic outlook about America. He can teach us all a lot about the meaning of courage and commitment to causes greater than ourself...
Afterwards, Congressman Lewis responded to the news of his previously unknown role as a Republican presidential adviser by noting:
"Senator McCain and I are colleagues in the U.S. Congress, not confidantes. He does not consult me. And I do not consult him."
But on Saturday, Lewis did offer McCain some counsel and a stinging rebuke. In the wake of McCain campaign events in which Barack Obama was threatened and called a "terrorist," an "Arab," and a "traitor," Lewis blasted McCain and his running mate:
"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. 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."
For his part, McCain played the victim and demanded Barack Obama repudiate Lewis' hyperbolic comparison of the McCain-Palin ticket to George Wallace:
"Congressman John Lewis' comments represent a character attack against Governor Sarah Palin and me that is shocking and beyond the pale...I am saddened that John Lewis, a man I've always admired, would make such a brazen and baseless attack on my character and the character of the thousands of hardworking Americans who come to our events to cheer for the kind of reform that will put America on the right track."
In response, the Obama campaign kept the focus squarely where it belonged – on the hatemongering of John McCain and his increasingly desperate supporters. Just hours Obama had signaled his appreciation to McCain for scolding some of his angry GOP backers, his campaign responded:
"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."
As for John Lewis, his short but unhappy tenure as a close confidant to John McCain has apparently come to an end. As for McCain, he still has General Petraeus, who this week to McCain's certain dismay acknowledged, "You have to talk to enemies." Meanwhile, on Tuesday Meg Whitman got John McCain's seal of approval as a potential Treasury Secretary, just one day after eBay announced it was slashing 10% of its workforce.