The memorial service at Washington’s National Cathedral was a fitting tribute to Senator John McCain. The huge audience was there to salute a man who believed in serving his country, for which he had made enormous sacrifices. McCain was a fighter in the best sense of the word, for his country, for what he believed was right, for the oppressed and defenseless. He was a man of action who wanted to get things done for the good and sake of his country and for others around the globe. He believed in bipartisanship to get things done.
That bipartisanship was on display in the turnout for his memorial service. The crowd consisted of many Democrats as well as Republicans. In the first row were Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, along with Vice President Al Gore, sitting with President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Vice President Joe Biden was one of the pallbearers. The numerous members of Congress in attendance came from both sides of the aisle. In death, as in life, McCain had an uncanny ability to bring people together. Even Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were there, though President Donald Trump, of course, was not invited and went golfing instead.
Those who paid tribute to McCain during the service and in other ceremonies during the past week consistently cited his stand against autocrats, dictators, and demagogues. “Perhaps above all, John detested the abuse of power,” Bush said. “He could not abide bigots and swaggering despots. There was something inside of him that made him stand up for the little guy. To speak for forgotten people and forgotten places.”
McCain’s choice of the courageous Russian activist Vladimir Kara-Murza, who miraculously survived two poisoning episodes in Russia, to serve as a pallbearer was a clear parting shot at a favorite McCain target of scorn, Vladimir Putin. From Burma to Belarus, Egypt to Venezuela, countless others have been boosted by McCain’s concern for their welfare, his willingness to call leaders out for their abuses, and his support for universal human rights, democracy and freedom.
As Daniel Twining, president of the International Republican Institute which McCain chaired for 25 years, put it in a beautiful tribute, “McCain’s experiences as a POW meant that he knew what it’s like to be deprived of freedom.
McCain traveled around the world to learn about complicated situations and war zones first-hand, to show solidarity with our troops, to stand with dissidents and activists, and to speak truth to power. He spent many an American holiday away from home and with the brave men and women in our Armed Forces serving overseas. He represented the best in American ideals and leadership. Even if you disagreed with him on specific policies, you had to admire that he was a determined and principled man of action.
In his farewell address, McCain wrote, “Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.”
The 18th-century British statesman Edmund Burke once famously said, “The only thing necessary for the success of evil is for good men to do nothing.” McCain believed in confronting the forces of evil wherever they existed, wherever they posed a threat to American interests, to our allies, and to basic human rights. McCain was determined never to let evil in any guise succeed. Few can rival his service to his country and his contributions to freedom, decency, and resolve to do right at home and abroad.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger stated it well on Saturday in his eulogy. “The world will be lonelier without John McCain, his faith in America and his instinctive sense of moral duty,” Kissinger said. “None of us will ever forget how even in his parting John has bestowed on us a much-needed moment of unity and renewed faith in the possibilities of America. Henceforth, the country’s honor is ours to sustain.”