The McCain funeral: was it an end or a beginning?

The comparison between McCain and the present occupant of the White House was palpable

The funeral ceremonies for the late Arizona Sen. John McCain were as meaningful and thorough a celebration of what he stood for as could possibly have been done. The magnificent presentations in the National Cathedral, as well as the events in Arizona and then at the Naval Academy, reportedly were choreographed by Sen. McCain himself in order to send the message he wished to convey one last time to the American people. 

With speeches from Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Joseph Lieberman and Meghan McCain, along with the attendance of the former first ladies and all living presidential nominees who had not occupied the Oval Office (like McCain) — the unity and bipartisan spirit was pervasive. 

The New Hampshire connection to Sen. McCain, a favorite presidential candidate here both in 2000 and 2008 when he won the New Hampshire GOP primary, was evident with former Sen. Kelly Ayotte doing one of the readings and Concord businessman and former GOP Chair Steve Duprey serving as a pallbearer. 

Duprey’s friendship with Senator McCain, with whom he traveled extensively in the 2008 campaign and continued to visit thereafter, was a testament to both men whose loyalty to each other and their country should be an example to everyone.

In case anyone missed it, the comparison between McCain and the present occupant of the White House, who was never mentioned by name, was palpable. 

McCain was the son and grandson of three-star admirals, a graduate of the Naval Academy, a decorated fighter pilot, tortured prisoner of war and hero. After military service, he served as congressman and senator, becoming a leader.

Tested during the “Keating Five” controversy early in his Senate career, he took the blame even though no crime was committed, and vowed to reform campaign finances and never again be compromised ethically.

Compare that to Trump, who as the son of a developer avoided military services and became and a real estate developer himself, using other people’s money and leaving them with losses when projects failed in bankruptcy. Trump is a reality TV personality motivated by money, focused obsessively on self, ethically challenged, never acknowledging fault, blaming others for every trouble, and unable to tell truth from fiction.

The dedication of McCain to principle, national defense, the appropriate place of the United States in the world, “regular order” in the Senate doing its business, and friend to those on both sides of the aisle, was in stark contrast to the bitter partisan and strident attitudes projected by the present White House and both parties in the Congress. This was decried at the memorial service.

Joseph Lieberman, the former Democratic who, after he became an independent, reportedly was McCain’s first choice for vice president in 2008, spoke warmly of their relationship, McCain’s respect for his Orthodox Jewish religion and the good times they shared together along with Lindsey Graham. After Lieberman retired, Senator Ayotte became the replacement in the “Three Amigos” who traveled the globe to learn about conditions and what American foreign policy should be.

Everyone noted McCain’s instinctive reactions to those who personally attacked President Obama or others who were serving their country and, while they had policy disagreements, shared a love for their country and were “on the same team.”

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, 95 years old, perhaps brought the most gravitas to the memorial service when he described the offer of the North Vietnamese to send prisoner-of-war McCain home with Kissinger when he was trying to negotiate the end of the Vietnam war, and Kissinger declined.

Later, in the White House, when a freed McCain was visiting President Nixon at a reception and Kissinger and he met for the first time, McCain thanked him for “saving my honor.” It was then that Kissinger learned that the North Vietnamese had offered McCain his freedom a couple years earlier as a gesture to his father, then the naval commander in the Pacific, and McCain refused, unless those in captivity longer were freed first. 

Seldom has there been such a meaningful and striking display of what America ought to be, and for most of its history has tried to be, as there was at the National Cathedral on Sept. 1, 2018. 

The question, however, having observed all this, is whether it was a celebration of things past or an incentive to restore bipartisanship, civility and “regular order” in the future. The answer to that question will be critical for America. 

Categories: Cook on Concord