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Thomas Gallatin / September 3, 2018

Political Grandstanding at McCain’s Memorial Service

The funeral devolved into another instance of the Washington establishment rebuking Trump.

On Saturday, the life of John McCain was memorialized. Personally chosen by the senator himself before he died, eulogies were given by the past two presidents, Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Both men were political opponents who defeated McCain in his two bids for the White House, so the fact that Obama and Bush were chosen could have provided a magnanimous moment where petty political grievances were subordinated to the greater importance of paying tribute to an individual who, for better or worse, lived a life of service to the nation he loved.

But sadly, there was no transcending the immediate political climate. This included the public slights via non-invitations of both President Donald Trump (granted, who wouldn’t have attended anyway) and, more surprisingly, McCain’s 2008 running mate, Sarah Palin. These were sad expressions of personal bitterness, either by McCain himself or his family, but worse, the needlessly contentious and self-righteous words spoken in McCain’s honor served only to taint the event with the spirit of political animosity.

It was clear that even though Trump was absent and his name never mentioned, his presence weighed heavy in the minds of several speakers. Obama obviously alluded to Trump when he said, “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. 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.”

Bush also took the opportunity to offer not-so-veiled criticisms of Trump, stating, “[John McCain] respected the dignity inherent in every life — a dignity that does not stop at borders and cannot be erased by dictators. Perhaps above all, John detested the abuse of power. He could not abide bigots and swaggering despots. There was something deep inside him that made him stand up for the little guy — to speak for forgotten people in forgotten places. … If we are ever tempted to forget who we are, to grow weary of our cause, John’s voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder: We are better than this. America is better than this.”

It is profoundly sad for our culture that this funeral remembrance of a public servant’s life boiled down to a myopic focus on grievances with another individual. That such cynical political grandstanding was approved by so many may signify that our society has lost something far more important than one senator. Who really “wins” in that scenario?


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