Politics

John McCain’s Final Appeal to His Vision of America

Friends channeled McCain throughout week of tributes

The casket of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is carried by an Honor Guard out of the Washington National Cathedral after his funeral on Saturday. His wife Cindy and son Jimmy appear in the background. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Washington National Cathedral roared to life in the middle of Sen. John McCain’s funeral Saturday when the thousands of friends, family members and dignitaries rose to join the Naval Academy Glee Club in the final refrain of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

After all the public celebrations of John McCain, the question after Saturday will be whether his vision of America will have a resurgence, and whether the many VIPs will take the lead in his fight.

There had been allusions to the contrast between the Arizona Republican’s America and the nation of President Donald Trump throughout the week, but it was his one of his daughters who cast aside any hint of it being merely subtext.

“My father wasn’t an opportunistic man of wealth who sat back while others make their sacrifices,” Meghan McCain said Saturday at the cathedral in Northwest Washington, highlighting his service in the Vietnam War and his years as a POW at the Hanoi Hilton.

Watch: Meghan McCain’s Loving Tribute, Scathing Rebuke of Trump at Father’s Funeral

The co-host of “The View” on ABC said the late senator had told her before his death that her eulogy for him should demonstrate her own strength, and she delivered on that.

‘American greatness’

“We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness,” she said. “The real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who lived lives of comfort and privilege.”

And those words would prove the frame of reference for the remainder of the day. 

President Barack Obama made more direct reference to his successor in the Oval Office’s direct attacks on the media than might have been expected for a funeral.

Obama made a point of noting McCain’s respect for the First Amendment.

He said the late Arizona senator “understood that if we get in the habit of bending the truth to suit political expediency, or party orthodoxy, our democracy will not work.”

McCain was eulogized by two former U.S. presidents — George W. Bush and Obama — who blocked McCain’s own path to the White House.

“John was a pretty conservative guy. Trust me, I was on the receiving end of some of those votes,” Obama said Saturday. “But he did understand that some principles transcend politics. Some values transcend party.”

McCain, said Bush, “respected the dignity inherent in every life, a dignity that does not stop at borders and cannot be erased by dictators.”

‘We’re better than this’

“John’s voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder,” Bush said. “We’re better than this. America is better than this.”

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., had struck similar notes as the headliner at a church service in Phoenix, Arizona, on Thursday.

“John understood that America was first and foremost, an idea. Audacious and risky, organized around not tribe but ideals. Think of how he approached every issue,” Biden said. “Sounds corny. ‘We hold these truths self-evident, that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain rights.’ To John, those words had meaning, as they have for every great patriot who’s ever served this country.”

Watch: ‘We Shall Not See His Like Again’ — Former Vice President Joe Biden’s Farewell to John McCain

Biden, who long served alongside McCain as a senator, said they both lamented the ever-increasing mistrust in the modern Senate.

“What happened was, at those times, it was always appropriate to challenge another senator’s judgment, but never appropriate to challenge their motive. When you challenge their motive, it’s impossible to get to go,” Biden said. “If I say you are going this because you are being paid off or you are doing it because you are not a good Christian or this, that, or the other thing, it’s impossible to reach consensus.”

Biden made the trip back east to attend Saturday’s service, where he served amongst a distinguished contingent of pallbearers.

Among the many lawmakers from both parties in attendance Saturday was Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who offered his tribute to McCain during the ceremony held Friday before the Capitol Rotunda opened to the public.

The Wisconsin Republican looked to the future, envisioning some day bringing children and grandchildren to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, to visit McCain’s grave. McCain will be laid to rest there along the Severn in a private Sunday service.

“I think about that. I think about what I might say to them: This is one of the bravest souls our country ever produced,” Ryan said. “However you choose to do your part, I hope you do it in the way he did: with energy and urgency; playing for keeps, never back on your heels; never letting principle yield to expedience; resisting the false allure of the fleeting, and battening down the hatches when things get rough; and always, always having a good story to tell.”

As Biden said in Arizona, “we shall not see his like again,” but when all the speeches of remembrance were done, no words may have resonated more than those of Meghan McCain at the opening of Saturday’s service at the cathedral.

“The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great,” she said.

Watch: Veterans, Campaign Staffers, Liberals and Trump Fans All Braved the Weather to Honor McCain

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.