Obama makes guests laugh during McCain's eulogy

Former President Barack Obama pays tribute to the late Sen. John McCain at Washington's National Cathedral.

Posted: Sep 3, 2018 1:02 PM
Updated: Sep 3, 2018 1:02 PM

Speaking at Sen. John McCain's memorial at Washington National Cathedral, Barack Obama and George W. Bush reminded us what American presidents can sound like in times of sorrow and grief.

For younger Americans whose first real political memory of the White House is President Donald Trump, the remarks of two former presidents offered an important moment that allows us to imagine the kind of decorum and ethos that is possible when the commander in chief understands the gravity of his role.

One of the jobs of the modern presidency is ceremonial, namely to serve as consoler in chief. President Lyndon Johnson helped the nation grieve after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. "Let us continue," LBJ told the country.

Few Americans who lived through the 1980s can forget President Ronald Reagan's moving speech after the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986. "I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. ... It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave."

President Bill Clinton had just the right words to say after the horrific bombing of a government building in Oklahoma City, while President George W. Bush stirred the nation, standing at Ground Zero with first responders after the September 11 attacks.

More recently, President Obama led mourners, and the nation, through a powerful rendition of "Amazing Grace" in Charleston, South Carolina, at the funeral for state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a pastor killed in the church massacre committed by Dylann Roof.

In 2018, we don't have a president capable or interested in this function. President Trump handled the entire week since McCain's death in horrendous fashion, refusing to show empathy, raising the White House flags back up from half-staff shortly after McCain's death -- lowering them again only after public outcry -- and doing as little as possible to show that he cares.

As the funeral began Saturday, President Trump chose to use his time sending out tweets and retweets about the Russia investigation. During McCain's service, Trump tweeted that NAFTA "was one of the WORST Trade Deals ever made." Some might say that President Trump has a tin ear about how his actions come across. Others might say that it is really about having the coldest of hearts.

But, fortunately, for a moment today, the nation saw what a president can do in times like these. George W. Bush and Barack Obama, each of whom experienced some tough battles with the senator on the campaign trail, offered important words to commemorate this fallen public servant.

"Some lives are so vivid it is difficult to imagine them ended," Bush said. He admitted that McCain "made him better" despite their tensions and frustration. He described McCain as a man with a code of values -- someone who always recognized that his political opponents were still "patriots." Bush reminded the nation that McCain did not tolerate "bigots and swaggering despots," or leaders who acted like schoolyard bullies.

"America is better than this," Bush pointedly remarked, remembering what McCain would say when we didn't live up to principle.

Obama continued with another display of what it means to be presidential. We celebrate a "warrior, a statesman, a patriot," Obama said, who embodied what was "best" of America.

When McCain spoke of "virtues like service and duty" they did "not ring hollow." McCain forced us, he said, to think about what were "we doing for our country." McCain understood that "some principles transcend politics; that some values transcend party." He fought for those principles and values, Obama said. "John understood, as JFK understood, as Ronald Reagan understood, that part of what makes our country is great is that our membership is not based on our bloodline" but "on adherence to a common creed. That all of us are created equal."

Obama reminded everyone that McCain never treated people differently because of their race, their religion and their gender, never accepting the "birthers" who challenged Obama's legitimacy. McCain, Obama said, understood the great responsibility that came with power -- that the United States guides the world through its values, not just its political might.

In stirring words, Obama explained that McCain called on the nation to be better and bigger than "politics that pretends to be brave and tough but in fact is borne in fear." We need to follow his example.

Too often, we risk normalizing the way that President Trump acts. The nation and its politicians -- Democrats and Republicans -- can't afford to do so. That is Sen. McCain's departing message to the democracy that he loved.

As we remember a public servant who devoted his entire life to our nation, two former presidents have reminded us what it means to be president. And McCain's memory this week reminded us about the values to which our politics must aspire. Putting aside the partisanship, there are certain norms and certain traditions that we must uphold, for those are what allow leaders to lead in crisis and sadness.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 159036

Reported Deaths: 3879
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10563104
Hinds10414204
Harrison7397113
Jackson6655128
Rankin6057107
Lee540396
Madison5120107
Forrest394786
Jones376188
Lauderdale3663147
Lafayette341053
Washington3321108
Lamar301950
Oktibbeha255262
Lowndes252867
Bolivar248084
Panola237353
Neshoba2280122
Marshall225051
Leflore211191
Monroe209778
Pontotoc208131
Lincoln200566
Sunflower194155
Warren183058
Tate180451
Union172926
Copiah170840
Pike166760
Scott161330
Yazoo161340
Itawamba159936
Alcorn159328
Pearl River158969
Coahoma155943
Prentiss154931
Simpson154053
Adams147252
Grenada145445
Leake141844
Holmes134461
Covington130040
Tippah130030
George129525
Winston128726
Hancock127641
Wayne123024
Attala122834
Marion121447
Tishomingo114043
Chickasaw110732
Newton110529
Tallahatchie99427
Clay96127
Clarke94853
Jasper87023
Stone82015
Calhoun79513
Walthall79330
Montgomery78426
Carroll75515
Lawrence74614
Smith74216
Yalobusha74228
Noxubee73317
Perry68726
Tunica63019
Greene62422
Jefferson Davis59617
Claiborne59216
Amite57615
Humphreys55219
Quitman5107
Benton50418
Kemper48018
Webster47714
Wilkinson40722
Jefferson38312
Choctaw3637
Franklin3635
Sharkey32917
Issaquena1214
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 256828

Reported Deaths: 3711
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson34214511
Mobile20299366
Madison13925150
Tuscaloosa13591156
Montgomery12659238
Shelby1095877
Baldwin9163137
Lee792566
Morgan710851
Etowah677467
Calhoun6695121
Marshall665757
Houston548239
DeKalb504738
Cullman472043
St. Clair451857
Limestone447546
Lauderdale436054
Elmore427564
Walker3818111
Talladega374457
Jackson350723
Colbert336443
Blount310043
Autauga287342
Franklin259734
Coffee254115
Dale242054
Dallas232932
Chilton230841
Russell22813
Covington227934
Escambia206131
Tallapoosa189191
Chambers185950
Pike162214
Clarke161819
Marion146136
Winston141924
Lawrence135336
Pickens127720
Geneva12638
Marengo125224
Bibb123938
Barbour120629
Butler118842
Randolph105922
Cherokee105524
Hale99732
Fayette96316
Clay93525
Washington93319
Henry8946
Monroe83811
Lowndes82129
Cleburne79914
Macon76522
Crenshaw72930
Conecuh72414
Lamar7138
Bullock70919
Perry6927
Wilcox64918
Sumter58922
Greene44218
Choctaw43519
Coosa3724
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