Meghan McCain: A few resented my father's fire

Meghan McCain, one of the late Sen. John McCain's daughters, remembers her father during a memorial service at Washington's National Cathedral.

Posted: Sep 3, 2018 11:56 AM
Updated: Sep 3, 2018 11:56 AM

John McCain has drawn tributes from presidents and prime ministers, senators and secretaries of state in the emotion-laden days since his death.

But it took a daughter to capture the measure of the man -- to remember him as the "fierce conscience of the nation's best self" and to thrust the rhetorical dagger that was the culmination of a uniquely political week of mourning.

"We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness. The real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly," the senator's daughter Meghan McCain said in a stunning eulogy laced with grief, anger, pride and love.

"The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again, because America was always great," she said, before being interrupted by an outburst of spontaneous applause at McCain's memorial service at Washington's National Cathedral on Saturday.

It was the most cutting moment of a funeral that operated on two levels. First, it was a farewell to a warrior, a senator, a friend and a father. But the service was also a prolonged allegory that served to highlight McCain's character, and by comparison, to condemn the politics of personality of Donald Trump.

The funeral marked the largest gathering of the bipartisan political establishment since the President's stark inaugural address in January 2017. Though he was unwelcome and was not mentioned by name, the event stood as an indictment of Trump's rule and the ideals his opponents believe he has crushed.

McCain's death, as the Arizona senator planned, has evolved into an extraordinary political moment that has elevated a national debate over the consequences of the Trump presidency, which critics see as a challenge to constitutional norms and the values on which the United States was founded.

Eulogizers, citing McCain's honor, courage, patriotic service, obstinacy, humor, reverence for freedom and contempt for bullies, presented the Arizona Republican as the personification of America itself. His loss, and the code by which he lived became a metaphor for something now gone from the nation's civic arena.

"So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage," former President Barack Obama said in a remembrance of a man whom he beat to the presidency in 2008, and who he wryly remembered hounded him for his performance almost every day he was in office.

"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," Obama said in a clear denunciation of Trump.

Obama's predecessor George W. Bush, another vanquisher of McCain's presidential ambitions who was asked to eulogize him, said the senator, who lay in a casket covered in the American flag, lived by a set of "public virtues that brought strength and purpose to his life and to his country."

"Perhaps above all, John detested the abuse of power. He could not abide bigots and swaggering despots," Bush said, in another apparent reference to Trump's conduct and affinity for strongmen like Russian President Vladimir Putin.

By asking the two men who thwarted his White House dreams to lead mourners, McCain made a powerful point about lost decency in Washington, the imperative in a democratic system for political enemies to bury their differences, and the importance of national unity.

Obama, who revealed that McCain would come to talk to him privately in the Oval Office -- a fact neither man advertised -- put it this way: "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."

One glaring absence

It is a mark of the tortured political times, and the sheer unorthodoxy of the Trump presidency, that the current commander-in-chief was not called upon to lead America in mourning one of its most iconic sons and statesmen.

But a feud that boiled even after McCain's death a week ago of brain cancer prevented that, along with McCain's belief that the behavior and views of the current President represent an affront to American ideals -- a point he deliberately put at the center of his funeral rites.

Trump spent the morning at the White House, attacking a US ally -- Canada -- hitting out at Obama, whose name he misspelled in a Twitter post, and assailing the FBI and the Justice Department over the Russia investigation before heading to his golf club in Virginia.

During his campaign, the President said McCain was not a war hero because he was captured in Vietnam and he declined to release a statement marking his death.

It was that kind of behavior that Meghan McCain decried as she spoke from her heart about her father and hero.

"He was a great man. ... he was a great fire who burned bright," she said.

"A few have resented that fire for that light it cast upon them, for the truth it revealed about their character, but my father never cared what they thought," the senator's daughter said in staggeringly direct and unrestrained address that would have made her father glow with pride.

She remembered how her father bore his suffering from injuries received as a Vietnam prisoner of war with the "stoic silence that was once the mark of an American man," in another apparent jab at the President.

Fighting against her grief, and sobbing, McCain's daughter said she had asked her ailing father how she should approach his eulogy before a vast national audience.

"'Show them how tough you are,'" she said, quoting the six-term senator and formal naval aviator.

Meghan McCain said her father revered an America that was "generous, welcoming and bold. She is resourceful and confident and secure. America does not boast, because she has no need to," she said.

When she appropriated Trump's slogan, "Make America Great Again," there was silence for a few seconds, then quietly at first, but building in a wave, came a round of applause.

In the third row, behind three ex-presidents, their wives and their Secret Service details, sat Trump's chief of staff John Kelly. Trump's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner were also in the congregation.

Across the aisle from the past presidents sat McCain's wife, Cindy, who lost her composure only once -- when opera singer Renee Fleming sang "Danny Boy," an elegy of loss and love that consoled the senator in the final days of his life. A tear dropped from her right eye and she rested her head on the shoulder of her son Jack, who wore a white dress Navy uniform.

The funeral is unlikely to change political realities on its own. Trump's supporters may even see validation in the fact that the President is so decried by the political establishment he won power promising to eviscerate. But it seems destined to become a signature moment in the national assessment of Trump's presidency that will shape the mid-term elections in November and will culminate in the 2020 White House race.

One of McCain's closest political friends, former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, remarked that his old colleague's passing had caused Americans to reconsider the country's founding values of freedom, human rights, opportunity, democracy and equal justice.

"Remarkably, his death seems to have reminded the American people that these values are what makes us a great nation, not the tribal partisanship and personal attack politics that have recently characterized our life," Lieberman said.

"This week's celebration of the life and values of patriotism of this hero, I think have taken our country above all that."

"It's the last great gift that John McCain gave America."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 312608

Reported Deaths: 7221
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21429257
Hinds20256414
Harrison17776308
Rankin13539278
Jackson13395246
Madison10051217
Lee9956173
Jones8364163
Forrest7633152
Lauderdale7215240
Lowndes6359144
Lamar620286
Lafayette6162118
Washington5320133
Bolivar4796132
Oktibbeha460398
Panola4545104
Pearl River4495145
Marshall4387103
Warren4368120
Pontotoc419372
Monroe4089133
Union408776
Neshoba4028176
Lincoln3939110
Hancock376686
Leflore3484125
Sunflower335290
Tate331684
Pike3290105
Scott314873
Alcorn310768
Yazoo310269
Itawamba299377
Copiah295865
Coahoma293979
Simpson293788
Tippah287268
Prentiss278560
Marion268680
Leake264973
Wayne262241
Grenada259985
Adams259882
Covington256281
Newton246961
George246748
Winston226981
Tishomingo225067
Jasper220748
Attala214273
Chickasaw207057
Holmes188672
Clay184654
Stone181433
Clarke178179
Tallahatchie177840
Calhoun169532
Yalobusha162936
Smith162034
Walthall133745
Greene130233
Lawrence128223
Noxubee126834
Montgomery126742
Perry126038
Amite123442
Carroll121628
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis106932
Tunica104626
Claiborne102130
Benton99025
Humphreys96133
Kemper95628
Franklin83323
Quitman79616
Choctaw75818
Wilkinson66830
Jefferson65428
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 528784

Reported Deaths: 10913
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson762251516
Mobile40864804
Madison34569501
Tuscaloosa25646451
Montgomery24264585
Shelby23355246
Baldwin20993306
Lee15800168
Calhoun14457312
Morgan14250279
Etowah13796352
Marshall12166222
Houston10506280
Elmore10017205
Limestone9935150
Cullman9617193
St. Clair9584237
Lauderdale9397238
DeKalb8813185
Talladega8183175
Walker7205279
Autauga6910107
Jackson6793110
Blount6621135
Colbert6282134
Coffee5491115
Dale4810111
Russell437938
Chilton4244111
Franklin423882
Covington4105117
Tallapoosa4004150
Escambia392675
Chambers3545123
Dallas3536150
Clarke350360
Marion3092100
Pike309177
Lawrence299698
Winston273572
Bibb259763
Marengo248564
Geneva247075
Pickens233559
Barbour230256
Hale221776
Butler215469
Fayette211962
Henry188544
Cherokee183845
Randolph179241
Monroe176240
Washington166839
Macon158649
Clay153356
Crenshaw151657
Cleburne148341
Lamar141234
Lowndes138453
Wilcox126528
Bullock122941
Conecuh110028
Perry107526
Coosa106828
Sumter104132
Greene92234
Choctaw60324
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