Bush remembers McCain: Rivalry melted away

Former President George W. Bush said whatever rivalry he had with Sen. John McCain "melted away" as they forged a friendship.

Posted: Sep 3, 2018 1:35 PM
Updated: Sep 3, 2018 2:05 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: 319948

Reported Deaths: 7371
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22285267
Hinds20719421
Harrison18431317
Rankin13901282
Jackson13718248
Madison10263224
Lee10059176
Jones8467167
Forrest7832153
Lauderdale7261242
Lowndes6517150
Lamar635188
Lafayette6313121
Washington5425137
Bolivar4841133
Panola4670110
Oktibbeha466198
Pearl River4605147
Marshall4574105
Warren4440121
Pontotoc425873
Monroe4157135
Union415777
Neshoba4063179
Lincoln4008112
Hancock386987
Leflore3515125
Tate342486
Sunflower339491
Pike3371111
Alcorn327272
Scott320374
Yazoo314171
Adams308086
Itawamba305178
Copiah299966
Coahoma298784
Simpson298589
Tippah291968
Prentiss284161
Leake272074
Marion271280
Covington267283
Wayne264642
Grenada264087
George252251
Newton248663
Tishomingo231868
Winston230181
Jasper222148
Attala215073
Chickasaw210559
Holmes190474
Stone188433
Clay187954
Tallahatchie180041
Clarke178980
Calhoun174132
Yalobusha167840
Smith164134
Walthall135347
Greene131834
Lawrence131124
Montgomery128643
Noxubee128034
Perry127238
Amite126242
Carroll122330
Webster115032
Jefferson Davis108234
Tunica108127
Claiborne103130
Benton102325
Humphreys97533
Kemper96629
Franklin85023
Quitman82216
Choctaw79118
Wilkinson69632
Jefferson66228
Sharkey50917
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 548657

Reported Deaths: 11306
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson810031566
Mobile42105831
Madison35690525
Tuscaloosa26173458
Shelby25607254
Montgomery25081614
Baldwin21868314
Lee16278176
Calhoun14719327
Morgan14629285
Etowah14175364
Marshall12453230
Houston10781287
Elmore10293214
Limestone10179157
St. Clair10162251
Cullman9952201
Lauderdale9603250
DeKalb8972190
Talladega8460184
Walker7338280
Autauga7241113
Blount6945139
Jackson6932113
Colbert6413140
Coffee5635127
Dale4928116
Russell454841
Chilton4476116
Franklin431382
Covington4275122
Tallapoosa4138155
Escambia401680
Chambers3728124
Dallas3607158
Clarke353061
Marion3240107
Pike314378
Lawrence3133100
Winston283472
Bibb268564
Geneva257981
Marengo250565
Pickens236962
Barbour234559
Hale227278
Butler224271
Fayette218862
Henry194543
Randolph187544
Cherokee187345
Monroe180041
Washington170539
Macon163051
Clay160059
Crenshaw155957
Cleburne153444
Lamar146837
Lowndes142254
Wilcox126930
Bullock124342
Conecuh113630
Coosa111729
Perry108626
Sumter105732
Greene93634
Choctaw62125
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Tropical Depression Claudette has now moved into Alabama and Georgia, leaving with some cloud cover but dry conditions. Most of us will stay dry through this Father's Day but some spotty showers will likely through the late afternoon.
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