Praising Senator John McCain for his patriotism and his willingness to hear the concerns of all Americans regardless of party affiliation, former President Barack Obama delivered an emotional eulogy at McCain’s funeral service in Washington on Saturday.
The former president, who beat McCain in the 2008 election to ascend to the Oval Office, spoke of the senator’s humor, his ferocious temper, and above all else, his undying devotion to the ideals of the nation.
“For someone like John to ask you while he was still alive to stand and speak of him when he is gone is a precious and singular honor,” Obama said. “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.”
Obama extolled those qualities in the wide-ranging speech, touching on McCain’s famous wit and humor.
“What better way to get a last laugh than to make (former president) George Bush and I say nice things about him to a national audience?” Obama joked.
The former president also spoke of the famous moment where McCain objected to an audience member’s characterization of Obama as an “Arab,” saying that he believed the moment encapsulated McCain’s belief in the equality of all viewpoints.
“I was grateful, but I wasn’t surprised,” he said. “As Joe Lieberman said, it was John’s instinct. I never saw him treat someone differently because of their race, religion, or gender. I’m certain that in those moments, he saw himself as defending America’s character, not just mine. He considered it the imperative of every citizen to treat people fairly.”
Obama said that he and McCain would often sit together in the Oval Office to discuss family and politics, and although they didn’t always agree on everything, they would never leave the meetings with animosity toward one another personally.
“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,” he said.
That theme, which Obama sounded to end the speech, appeared to be a condemnation of the divisive politics that has developed in America during the Obama and Trump administrations, and serve as the biggest lesson the former president believes Americans should draw from McCain’s legacy.
“What better way to honor his life of service to, as best we can, to follow his example, to prove that the willingness to get in the arena and fight in this country is open to all of us,” he said, with a tear forming at the corner of his eye. “It’s demanded of all of us as citizens of this great republic. That’s perhaps how we honor him best, by recognizing there are some things that are bigger than party or ambition or money or power.”