Politics

John McCain, One Senator, Five Funerals, No Shortage of Laugh Lines

Saying goodbye to an American icon

The honor guard carries the casket into the North Phoenix Baptist Church for a memorial service for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York, Pool)

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McCain of Arizona

The Arizona part of the John McCain remembrance concluded Thursday, with three days to follow on the East Coast with memorial services at the Capitol Rotunda on Friday, the Washington National Cathedral on Saturday and burial at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on Sunday. 

Yes, McCain was a big enough presence to warrant five funerals. 

“He knew we all made America great,” said Tommy Espinoza, a longtime McCain friend, eulogizing the Arizona senator on Thursday at North Phoenix Baptist Church. 

Every aspect of Arizona was on display this week in the wake of McCain’s death on Aug. 25, from the remembrances at the Arizona Capitol and the Southern Baptist megachurch that lies on Phoenix’s Central Avenue about halfway between where the senator and his wife Cindy raised their kids and where some of them went to school at Brophy College Preparatory, whose choral group sang at the Thursday’s service.

Hispanic Democrats like Espinoza, former chiefs of staff like Grant Woods, who went on to be Arizona’s attorney general, Arizona sports icons like Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals and Luis Gonzalez of the Arizona Diamondbacks, music by Navajo flutist Jonah LittleSunday, McCain planned this one out to show off his adopted state. 

From Woods’ recounting of him and McCain being greeted with someone flipping them the middle finger when he went to Leisure World (after quipping that it was called “Seizure World”), to Fitzgerald’s joking about their odd-couple relationship, there was no shortage of laugh lines in the cavernous worship center of the megachurch, followed by more somber remembrances, of course.

And then there was Uncle Joe. 

“My name’s Joe Biden. And I’m a Democrat. And I love John McCain,” the former veep said, the non-Arizonan headliner of the very Arizona-heavy memorial service at what some of us in Phoenix have called The Bapti-Dome.

Biden’s speech was a multifaceted embrace of his friend and colleague McCain, a quiet ode to the pain of loss, a rousing defense of American ideals and a call to action to remember McCain by honoring the principles that animated him. 

“John’s story is an American story,” Biden thundered, just before McCain left Arizona for the last time on a government plane bound east. 

My colleague Niels Lesniewski has more on Biden’s eulogy

Check out Roll Call’s coverage of McCain’s life, from his military record to the politics surrounding the appointment of his successor, in our special section on the senator: Sen. John McCain, 1936-2018

This Week’s Podcast

Political Theater
Political Theater

McCain’s unique touch with people extended to the press, which he jokingly referred to as his real base. In truth, especially if you listen to the many tributes to the senator this week, he treated people remarkably equitably. If he thought you were on the level, there was a lot of give and take. Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski and CQ’s Megan Scully and Patrick Pexton recount some of their favorite interactions with him on the latest Political Theater podcast, and I discuss what it was like to be one of his constituents. 

Have a listen: 

The Kicker

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 13: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., fools around with colleagues upon arriving for a news conference in the Senate studio on Guantanamo detainees, January 13, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
There are a lot of ways to remember McCain. This is one of the funniest. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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