U.S. Sen. John McCain’s memorial service took place Saturday. The Arizonan was a unique public figure, a die-hard Republican who nevertheless cultivated friendships across the aisle and through generations. His experiences as a prisoner of war in Vietnam — more than five years of confinement and torture — exemplified the kind of courage and patriotism that now seems vanishingly rare.
McCain’s approach can be seen in the two former presidents he chose to speak Saturday: George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Besides each serving eight years as president of the United States, each man also defeated McCain. Bush bested McCain during a rough 2000 GOP nominating race. Obama took the presidency in 2008 elections held amidst a global economic meltdown.
The Arizona senator was a famously prickly character, and his interactions with each man through the years were far from smooth. Yet the invitations demonstrate McCain’s fundamental, deep-seated decency and honor. He knew, better than many serving today, that public service transcends party or ideological labels.
He knew, in short, that democracy demands everyone’s best efforts to thrive.
That perhaps explains his other funeral decision — to exclude President Trump from the proceedings. The sitting president’s comments about McCain were a low point of his campaign for the office, and his steadfast refusal to apologize irked members of both parties. Trump’s reluctance to be constrained by any traditional rules of civic engagement may enthuse some, but they have also weakened the bipartisan spirit required to solve big problems.
McCain flirted at various points with upending the status quo. He thought about leaving the GOP after the 2000 race. He considered running with John Kerry in 2004. Even in 2008, as the Republican presidential nominee, he floated naming former Democrat Joe Lieberman as his running mate.
Any one of these decisions would have transformed the nation’s politics. None of them happened.
Instead, the senator stayed a Republican, albeit an uncomfortable one. He ultimately endorsed Bush for president. He ended up naming Sarah Palin (the former Alaska governor and proto-Trump) as his running mate in 2008. McCain clearly had dreams of transcending tribe and party. Instead, he showed that he was as human as the rest of us. …
John McCain, in full, was imperfect yet principled, hot-headed yet caring. He was much like the country that he loved.
— The Topeka Capital-Journal