As far apart as they were on policy, former President Barack Obama said in his eulogy to Sen. John McCain on Saturday at the Washington National Cathedral that they were bound by a shared belief that patriotism lives outside party lines.
Watch Obama’s full eulogy for Sen. John McCain in the player above.
Obama spoke after former President George W. Bush, as their two families sat together in the front row, across the aisle from McCain’s wife Cindy McCain. He said it was a “surprise” that McCain had asked him in April to deliver the speech, but that it exemplified his reputation for “being unpredictable, even a little contrarian,” with “no interest in conforming.”
“It showed his irreverence, his sense of humor, a little bit of a mischievous streak,” he said. “After all, what better way to get a last laugh than to make George and I say nice things about him to a national audience?”
While Cindy and the audience laughed with former first lady Michelle Obama and Bush, who sat next to each other, it also tied together what many saw as McCain’s historic, dying wish: to show political unity, even under an administration he rejected.
McCain requested that neither Trump nor his former presidential running mate Sarah Palin, whose populism was a gateway for Trump supporters, be at the service.
Obama never mentioned Trump, focusing on McCain’s ability to find common ground with all people who are passionate about democracy and his emphasis on preserving the dignity of the country.
“[McCain] saw this country as a place where anything is possible and citizenship is an obligation to ensure it forever remains that way,” Obama said. “There are some things bigger than party or ambition or money or fame or power, there are some things that are worth risking everything for, principles that are eternal, truths that are abiding.”
But many critics of the administration, journalists and celebrities saw the values he described, and many other aspects of the service, as a contrast to the current administration.
Remember when those now aiding and abetting Trump demonized Obama as un-American, a Manchurian candidate, allied with criminals, racists and enemies of America, out of his depth, who couldn't be trusted to lead the United States with steadiness, wisdom, and decorum?
— Dan Rather (@DanRather) September 1, 2018
As Senator McCain's casket arrived at the National Cathedral and Presidents Obama and Bush took their seats before delivering eulogies, President Trump, at home on a dreary morning, raged about the "Fake Dossier" in a tweet in which he misspelled Obama's name.
— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) September 1, 2018
Obama said that, “John understood that our security and our influence was won not just by our military might, not just by our wealth, not just by our ability to bend others to our will, but from our capacity to inspire others with our adherence to a set of universal values, like rule of law and human rights and insistence on the God-given dignity of every human being.”
Both former presidents ran against McCain during their presidential campaigns, Obama in the 2008 presidential election and Bush in 2000 as a Republican primary contender. And both said they shared fidelity with McCain to a democracy that thrives by treating all people equally.
Pointing to footage that circulated widely this week of McCain defending Obama against racist claims in 2008, Obama said McCain always showed compassion for his opponents.
“I never saw John treat anyone differently because of their race or their religion or gender,” he said. “He saw himself as defending America’s character, not just mine. He considered it the imperative of every citizen who loves this country to treat all people fairly.”
Obama said that people did not know that McCain would often come to the White House, away from the bright lights, and talk with him, one-on-one, about family life, politics and more.
“Our disagreements didn’t go away,” he said, but “we never doubted the other man’s sincerity or the other man’s patriotism and that when all was said and done, we were on the same team.”