Barack Obama and George W. Bush Eulogizing John McCain Is Historic
Joe Biden made headlines with his eulogy for former senator John McCain, in which he lamented the end of bipartisanship and characterized McCain as someone who “lived by a different code, an ancient, antiquated code where honor, courage, integrity, duty, were alive.” But Biden won’t be the only prominent politician to eulogize McCain before the former senator is laid to rest.
Both Barack Obama and George W. Bush will attend a memorial service for at Washington National Cathedral, making history in the process.
John McCain didn’t want Donald Trump at his funeral
Donald Trump is infamously continuing his feud with John McCain, even after McCain’s death. Vox reports that Trump only issued a “muted” statement on McCain after spending nearly 48 hours refusing to address McCain’s career or legacy. McCain’s legacy — particularly as an advocate of the Iraq war — is both complicated and controversial, as Vox notes.
However, Trump’s response to McCain’s death shows the president continuing his feud with the senator. In the final weeks of his life, McCain said that he didn’t want Trump at his funeral, to take place at Washington National Cathedral, where Barack Obama and George W. Bush will both deliver eulogies.
Trump hasn’t spoken at any funerals since becoming president
The Washington Post reports that “Sometimes, the passing of an august figure requires words from the highest political voice in the country, a sitting or former president.” However, Donald Trump has not spoken at a funeral since moving into the White House, according to the Post.
Though Trump may not be big on speaking at funerals, it’s no mistake that Trump won’t even attend John McCain’s memorial service. As Vox notes, “The White House’s seeming indifference to the death of a major figure in Trump’s own party is a clear continuation of a longstanding sour relationship between Trump and McCain.”
Barack Obama and George W. Bush are making history
Former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush will make history on Saturday. The Washington Post reports that “Something similar happened in 2004, when both Bush and his father, former president George H.W. Bush, spoke at Ronald Reagan’s funeral.” But the era of presidential addresses at funerals is quite short.
Lyndon B. Johnson began the tradition, delivering remarks at the funeral of poet Carl Sandburg in 1967. “Before Johnson, the public record shows no presidential eulogy going back to the time White House records became public documents in 1929,” the Post notes. Before 1929, presidential papers were private property, and it was uncommon for presidents to deliver eulogies at funerals.
Both former presidents were surprised the invitation to speak at John McCain’s funeral
Slate reports that both Barack Obama and George W. Bush were surprised by John McCain’s request that they deliver eulogies at his funeral. But reportedly, they both immediately agreed to speak at the memorial service. Slate explains that “McCain’s choice — and it was a deliberate choice — to have George W. Bush and Barack Obama speak doesn’t appear [to] stem from a deep, personal friendship with either man and clearly was intended to send a message.”
Any animosity between Obama and McCain had softened ” because of their shared alarm over the current political climate,” Slate reports. Additionally, the publication notes that “A friend of McCain’s told CNN that the choice of two former rivals was meant to send a message of civility, that ‘differences in political views and contests shouldn’t be so important that we lose our common bonds.'”
Since Johnson, most presidents have delivered eulogies
After Johnson, Richard Nixon delivered a eulogy for Dwight Eisenhower in 1969, and also spoke at funerals for Everett Dirksen, Whitney Young, and J. Edgar Hoover. Jimmy Carter eulogized Hubert Humphrey, service members killed in Iran, and A. Philip Randolph. Ronald Reagan also spoke at three funerals (most notably for the crew of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986). And Bill Clinton spoke at a record 26 funerals between 1994 and 2001.
The Post notes that Barack Obama spoke at a dozen funerals. And George W. Bush delivered six eulogies during his time in the White House, including for Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. His father, George H.W. Bush seems to have delivered none during his time as president, making him and Gerald Ford the only presidents since Johnson to do so.
John McCain had the last word against Donald Trump when he planned his funeral
The New York Times reports that as soon as John McCain received his diagnosis of brain cancer, he began planning his funeral, obsessing over the music, choreographing how his coffin would get from Arizona to Washington, and reaching out with requests to both Republicans and Democrats to deliver eulogies and serve as pallbearers. The Times reports that the series of events McCain planned “was also an unmistakable rebuke to President Trump and his agenda.”
The Times reports that by the time “virtually all of official Washington — Democrats and Republicans alike — gathers at the National Cathedral for a nationally televised farewell, Mr. Trump is expected to have retreated to Camp David, where White House aides hope he will contain his anger at the attention being lavished on Mr. McCain.” The two men seemed to have little respect for each other, and McCain made it clear that Trump wasn’t welcome at an event that would serve as a celebration of his worldview.
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