September 1, 2018

GRACEFULL:

Eulogy for John McCain (George W. Bush, 9/01/18, Washington National Cathedral)

Cindy and the McCain family, I am honored to be with you, to offer my sympathies, and to celebrate a great life. The nation joins your extraordinary family in grief and gratitude for John McCain.

Some lives are so vivid, it is difficult to imagine them ended; some voices are so vibrant and distinctive, it is hard to think of them stilled. A man who seldom rested is laid to rest and his absence is tangible, like the silence after a mighty roar.

The thing about John's life was the amazing sweep of it--from a tiny prison cell in Vietnam to the floor of the United States Senate; from troublemaking plebe to presidential candidate. Wherever John passed throughout the world, people immediately knew there was a leader in their midst. In one epic life was written the courage and greatness of our country.

For John and me, there was a personal journey--a hard-fought political history. Back in the day, he could frustrate me and I know he'd say the same thing about me, but he also made me better. In recent years, we sometimes talked of that intense period like football players remembering a big game. In the process, rivalry melted away. In the end, I got to enjoy one of life's great gifts: the friendship of John McCain and I'll miss it.

Moments before my last debate ever with Senator John Kerry in Phoenix, I was trying to gather some thoughts in the holding room. I felt a presence, opened my eyes, and six inches from my face was McCain who yelled, "Relax, relax!"

John was, above all, a man with a code. He lived by a set of public virtues that brought strength and purpose to his life and to his country. He was courageous, with a courage that frightened his captors, and inspired his countrymen. He was honest, no matter whom it offended. Presidents were not spared. He was honorable, always recognizing that his opponents were still patriots and human beings. He loved freedom with a passion of a man who knew its absence. He respected the dignity inherent in every life, a dignity that does not stop at borders and cannot be erased by dictators.

Perhaps above all, John detested the abuse of power. He could not abide bigots and swaggering despots. There was something deep inside him that made him stand up for the little guy, to speak for forgotten people in forgotten places. One friend from his Naval Academy days recalled how John, while a lowly plebe, reacted to seeing an upperclassman verbally abuse a steward. Against all tradition, he told the jerk to pick on someone his own size. It was a familiar refrain during his six decades of service.

Where does such strength and conviction come from? Perhaps from a family where honor was in the atmosphere. Or from the firsthand experience of cruelty, which left physical reminders that lasted his whole life. Or from some deep well of moral principle. Whatever the cause, it was this combination of courage and decency that defined John's calling, and so closely paralleled the calling of his country. It's this combination of courage and decency that makes the American military something new in history, an unrivaled power for good. It's this combination of courage and decency that set America on a journey into the world to liberate death camps, to stand guard against extremism, and to work for the true peace that comes only with freedom.

John felt these commitments in his bones. It is a tribute to his moral compass that dissidents and prisoners in so many places--from Russia to North Korea to China--knew that he was on their side. And I think their respect meant more to him than any medals and honors life could bring.

The passion for fairness and justice extended to our own military when a private was poorly equipped or a seaman was overworked in terrible conditions. John enjoyed nothing more than dressing down an admiral or a general. He remained a troublesome plebe to the end.

Those in political power were not exempt. At various points throughout his long career, John confronted policies and practices that he believed were unworthy of his country. To the face of those in authority, John McCain would insist: We are better than this. America is better than this.

John is the first to tell you he was not a perfect man but he dedicated his life to national ideals that are as perfect as men and women have yet conceived. He was motivated by a vision of America carried ever forward, ever upward, on the strength of its principles. He saw our country not only as a physical place or power, but as the carrier of enduring human aspirations. As an advocate for the oppressed, as a defender of the peace, as a promise, unwavering, undimmed, unequal.

The strength of democracy is renewed by reaffirming the principles on which it was founded. And America has somehow always found leaders who were up to that task, particularly at times of greatest need. John was born to meet that kind of challenge, to defend and demonstrate the defining ideals of our nation.

If we're ever tempted to forget who we are, grow weary of our cause, John's voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder: We are better than this. America is better than this.

John was a restless soul. He really didn't glory in success or wallow in failure because he was always onto the next thing. Friends said, "He can't stand to stay in the same experience." One of his books ended with the words: "And I moved on."

John has moved on. He would probably not want us to dwell on it, but we are better for his presence among us. The world is smaller for his departure. And we will remember him as he was: unwavering, undimmed, unequal.


Eulogy (Barrack Obama, 9/01/18, Washington National Cathedral)

To John's beloved family -- Mrs. McCain; to Cindy and the McCain children, President and Mrs. Bush, President and Secretary Clinton; Vice President and Mrs. Biden; Vice President and Mrs. Cheney, Vice President Gore, and, as John would say, my friends:

We come to celebrate an extraordinary man - a warrior, a statesman, a patriot who embodied so much that is best in America.

President Bush and I are among the fortunate few who competed against John at the highest levels of politics. He made us better presidents. Just as he made the Senate better. Just as he made this country better. So for someone like John to ask you, while he's still alive, to stand and speak of him when he's gone, is a precious and singular honor.

Now, when John called me with that request earlier this year, I'll admit sadness and also a certain surprise. But after our conversation ended, I realized how well it captured some of John's essential qualities.

To start with, John liked being unpredictable, even a little contrarian. He had no interest in conforming to some prepackaged version of what a senator should be, and he didn't want a memorial that was going to be prepackaged either.

It also showed John's disdain for self-pity. He had been to hell and back, and he had somehow never lost his energy, or his optimism, or his zest for life. So cancer did not scare him, and he would maintain that buoyant spirit to the very end, too stubborn to sit still, opinionated as ever, fiercely devoted to his friends and most of all, to his family.

It showed his irreverence - his sense of humor, little bit of a mischievous streak. 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?

And most of all, it showed a largeness of spirit, an ability to see past differences in search of common ground. And in fact, on the surface, John and I could not have been more different. We're of different generations. I came from a broken home and never knew my father; John was the scion of one of America's most distinguished military families. I have a reputation for keeping cool; John -- not so much. We were standard bearers of different American political traditions, and throughout my presidency, John never hesitated to tell me when he thought I was screwing up - which, by his calculation, was about once a day.

But for all our differences, for all the times we sparred, I never tried to hide, and I think John came to understand, the longstanding admiration that I had for him.

By his own account, John was a rebellious young man. In his case, that's understandable - what faster way to distinguish yourself when you're the son and grandson of admirals than to mutiny?

Eventually, though, he concluded that the only way to really make his mark on the world is to commit to something bigger than yourself. And for John, that meant answering the highest of callings - serving his country in a time of war.

Others this week and this morning have spoken to the depths of his torment, and the depths of his courage, there in the cells of Hanoi, when day after day, year after year, that youthful iron was tempered into steel. It brings to mind something that Hemingway wrote in the book that Meghan referred to, his favorite book:

"Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that ever come can depend on what you do today."

In captivity, John learned, in ways that few of us ever will, the meaning of those words - how each moment, each day, each choice is a test. And John McCain passed that test - again and again and again. And that's why, when John spoke of virtues like service, and duty, it didn't ring hollow. They weren't just words to him. It was a truth that he had lived, and for which he was prepared to die. It forced even the most cynical to consider what were we doing for our country, what might we risk everything for.

Much has been said this week about what a maverick John was. Now, in fact, John was a pretty conservative guy. Trust me, I was on the receiving end of some of those votes. But he did understand that some principles transcend politics. That some values transcend party. He considered it part of his duty to uphold those principles and uphold those values.

John cared about the institutions of self-government - our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, rule of law and separation of powers, even the arcane rules and procedures of the Senate. He knew that, in a nation as big and boisterous and diverse as ours, those institutions, those rules, those norms are what bind us together and give shape and order to our common life, even when we disagree, especially when we disagree.

John believed in honest argument and hearing other views. He understood that if we get in the habit of bending the truth to suit political expediency or party orthodoxy, our democracy will not work. That's why he was willing to buck his own party at times, occasionally work across the aisle on campaign finance reform and immigration reform. That's why he championed a free and independent press as vital to our democratic debate. And the fact that it earned him some good coverage didn't hurt, either.

John understood, as JFK understood, as Ronald Reagan understood, that part of what makes our country great is that our membership is based not on our bloodline; not on what we look like, what our last names are. It's not based on where our parents or grandparents came from, or how recently they arrived, but on adherence to a common creed: That all of us are created equal. Endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.

It's been mentioned today, and we've seen footage this week of John pushing back against supporters who challenged my patriotism during the 2008 campaign. I was grateful, but I wasn't surprised. As Joe Lieberman said, it was John's instinct. I never saw John treat anyone differently because of their race, or religion, or gender. And I'm certain that in those moments that have been referred to during the campaign, he saw himself as defending America's character, not just mine, for he considered it the imperative of every citizen who loves this country to treat all people fairly.

And finally, while John and I disagreed on all kinds of foreign policy issues, we stood together on America's role as the one indispensable nation, believing that with great power and great blessings comes great responsibility. That burden is borne most heavily by our men and women in uniform - service members like Doug, Jimmy, and Jack, who followed in their father's footsteps - as well as the families who serve alongside our troops. But 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 an insistence on the God-given dignity of every human being.

Of course, John was the first to tell us that he was not perfect. Like all of us who go into public service, he did have an ego. Like all of us, there were no doubt some votes he cast, some compromises he struck, some decisions he made that he wished he could have back. It's no secret, it's been mentioned that he had a temper, and when it flared up, it was a force of nature, a wonder to behold - his jaw grinding, his face reddening, his eyes boring a hole right through you. Not that I ever experienced it firsthand, mind you.

But to know John was to know that as quick as his passions might flare, he was just as quick to forgive and ask for forgiveness. He knew more than most his own flaws and his blind spots, and he knew how to laugh at himself. And that self-awareness made him all the more compelling.

We didn't advertise it, but every so often over the course of my presidency, John would come over to the White House, and we'd just sit and talk in the Oval Office, just the two of us - we'd talk about policy and we'd talk about family and we'd talk about the state of our politics. And our disagreements didn't go away during these private conversations. Those were real, and they were often deep. But we enjoyed the time we shared away from the bright lights. And we laughed with each other, and we learned from each other. We never doubted the other man's sincerity or the other man's patriotism, or that when all was said and done, we were on the same team. We never doubted we were on the same team.

For all of our differences, we shared a fidelity to the ideals for which generations of Americans have marched, and fought, and sacrificed, and given their lives. We considered our political battles a privilege, an opportunity to serve as stewards of those ideals here at home, and to do our best to advance them around the world. We saw this country as a place where anything is possible - and citizenship as an obligation to ensure it forever remains that way.

More than once during his career, John drew comparisons to Teddy Roosevelt. And I'm sure it's been noted that Roosevelt's "Man in the Arena" oration seems tailored to John. Most of you know it: Roosevelt speaks of those who strive, who dare to do great things, who sometimes win and sometimes come up short, but always relish a good fight - a contrast to those cold, timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

Isn't that the spirit we celebrate this week?

That striving to be better, to do better, to be worthy of the great inheritance that our founders bestowed.

So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse, can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insult, in phony controversies and manufactured outrage. It's a politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but in fact is born of fear.

John called on us to be bigger than that. He called on us to be better than that.

"Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that will ever come can depend on what you do today."

What better way to honor John McCain's life of service than, as best we can, follow his example?

To prove that the willingness to get in the arena and fight for this country is not reserved for the few, it is open to all of us, that in fact it's demanded of all of us, as citizens of this great republic?

That's perhaps how we honor him best - by recognizing that there are some things bigger than party, or ambition, or money, or fame or power. That there are some things that are worth risking everything for. Principles that are eternal. Truths that are abiding.

At his best, John showed us what that means. For that, we are all deeply in his debt.

May God bless John McCain, and may God bless this country he served so well.



Posted by at September 1, 2018 10:26 AM

  

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