So, I sat this one out - I played hooky this morning. I spent time in my garden, forming my own opinions, liking what I liked, appreciating (or not) the sincerity of the words we heard over the past few days and, honestly, struggling a little with the amount of 'Trump bashing' that occurred, both spoken and implied, even as I understand where it comes from and why it came out at this particular moment.
I reflected on the many good graces that were present throughout the past week, and fleetingly on the petulance and childishness that emanated from some (we, and they, know who they are). Here are some excerpts from the many tributes in McCain's honor.
From Joe Biden, more than a Senate colleague, a close friend from their earliest days in DC, on why people have been so moved by McCain's passing:
Look, I've been thinking this week about why John's death hit the country so hard. Yes, he was a long-serving senator... Yes, he was a two-time presidential candidate... and yes John was a war hero... But I don't think that fully explains why the country has been so taken by John's passing. I think it's something more intangible.
I think it's because they knew John believed so deeply and so passionately in the soul of America. He made it easier for them to have confidence and faith in America. His faith in the core values of this nation made them somehow feel it more genuinely themselves... It made the average Americans so proud of themselves and their country. He belief...that Americans can do anything, withstand anything, achieve anything...was unflagging and ultimately reassuring... that we truly are the world's last best hope. the beacon to the world. There are principles and ideals more than ourselves worth sacrificing for and if necessary, dying for. Americans saw how he lived his life that way, and they knew the truth of what he was saying.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, we shall not see his like again.From Paul Ryan, House Speaker, leaving politics this year, on speaking of McCain in the future:
He never lost the joy that time can dull, or the edge that political life often sands away. I..from time to time found myself on the receiving end of John's distinct brand of candor, happily so. I remember thinking more than once yeah, he really does talk like a sailor. But...with John, it was never feigned disagreement. The man didn't feign anything, he just relished the fight. He showed us that in the arena, the honest back and forth, that's where the cause gets bigger, that's where the triumph is all the sweeter. We get stronger at the broken places... I think ahead to the day when I, like so many, will bring my own children and perhaps their children to that hallowed lawn in Annapolis. I think about that, about what I might say to them. "This is one of the bravest souls our nation has ever produced. However you choose to do your part, I hope you do it the way he did... Playing for keeps, never back on your heels. Never letting principle yield to expediency...and always having a great story to tell."From Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State who first met McCain when he was released from Vietnam back in 1973:
Honor - it is an intangible quality, not obligatory. It has no code. It reflects an inward compulsion, free of self-interest. It fulfills a cause, not a personal ambition. It represents what a society lives for beyond the necessities of the moment... For John, it was a way of life.
John was an exponent of an American strong enough to its purpose, but (he) believed also in a compassionate America... He warned against the temptation of withdrawal from the world. In this manner John McCain's name became synonymous with an America that reached out to oblige the powerful to be loyal and give hope to the oppressed.
The world with be lonelier without John McCain, his faith in America and his instinctive sense of moral duty. 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.From Joe Lieberman, one of McCain's closest friends, who spoke about the human John McCain:
...becoming John McCain's friend is one of the great blessings of my life...John and I got to know and trust each other as friends in a way that doesn't happen, because it can't happen any more in the frenetic Washington life of senators. Our friendship taught me many things, including I must add, some jokes that I otherwise never would have known.
I can tell you that he was a real friend in accommodating what were to him my unusual practices as a religiously observant Jew, whether it was walking with me on a Saturday to an important meeting or turning down a popular Friday night dinner invitation... because it was too far to walk... John naturally in doing these wonderful acts of friendship grumbled all the way about what I was putting him through, you know. Right now I think he's probably deriving some pleasure from the fact it turned out his funeral was held on a Saturday and I had to walk to get here. I'm sure if he were here now, he would tell me that was divine justice.From Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver, who's been friends with McCain for more than a decade, and who visited Vietnam, walked in John McCain's steps, sat in his cell at the Hanoi Hilton:
Many people might wonder what a young, African American kid from Minnesota and a highly decorated Vietnam War hero-turned-United States Senator might have in common... (Note: all of the following pairs of 'commonality' were accompanied by laughter) I'm black. He was white. I'm young. He wasn't so young...He ran for president. I run out of bounds. He was the epitome of toughness, and I do everything I can to avoid contact. I have flowing locks, and well, he didn't...
While from very different worlds, we developed a meaningful friendship. And this highlights the very rare and very special qualities of Senator McCain that I came to deeply admire. He didn't judge individuals based on the color of their skin, their gender, their backgrounds, their political affiliations or their bank accounts. He evaluated them on the merits of their character and the contents of their hearts, He judged them by the work they put in and the principles they lived by... While some might find our friendship out of the ordinary, it was a perfect example of what made him an iconic figure of American politics and service to fellow man.
He celebrated differences. He embraced humanity, championed what was true and just and saw people for who they were.From President George W. Bush, with whom McCain both worked and battled:
John is the first to tell you that he was not a perfect man but he dedicated his life to national ideals that are as perfect as men and women have yet conceived. He was motivated by a vision of America carried ever forward, ever upward, on the strength of its principles. He saw our country not only as a physical place or power, but as the carrier of enduring human aspirations. As an advocate for the oppressed, as a defender of the peace, as a promise, unwavering, undimmed, unequalled.
The strength of democracy is renewed by reaffirming the principles on which it was founded and America somehow always found leaders who were up to that task, particularly at the time of greatest need. John was born to meet that kind of challenge, to defend and demonstrate the defining ideals of our nation. If we're ever tempted to forget who we are, grow weary of our cause, John's voice will come as a whisper over our shoulder, "we're better than this. America is better than this."
John was a restless soul. He really didn't glory in success or wallow in failure because he was always on to the next thing, said he can't stay in the same experience. One of his books ended with the words "and I moved on." John has moved on, He would probably not want us to dwell on it, but we are better for his presence among us. The world is smaller for his departure, and we will remember him as he was: unwavering, undimmed, unequalled.And finally, from President Barack Obama, who defeated McCain in the 2008 election.
I have a reputation for keeping cool, John not so much. We were standard bearers of different American political traditions and throughout my presidency, John never hesitated to tell me when he thought I was screwing up, which by his calculation was about once a day. But for all our differences, for all of the times we sparred, I never tried to hide, and I think John came to understand the long-standing admiration that I had for him.
But to know John was to know that as quick as his passions might flare, he was just as quick to forgive, and to ask for forgiveness. He knew more than most his own flaws, his blind spots, and he knew how to laugh at himself. And that self awareness made him all the more compelling.
"Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be, but what will happen in all the days that will ever come can depend on what you do today." What better way to honor John McCain's life of service than, as best we can, follow his example to prove that the willingness to get in the arena and fight for this country is not reserved for the few, it is open to all of us, and in fact it is demanded of all of us as citizens of this great republic.
That's perhaps how we honor him best, by recognizing that there are some things bigger than party or ambition or money or fame or power, things that are worth risking everything for, principles that are eternal, truths that are abiding. At his best, John showed us what that means. For that, we are all deeply in his debt.There are no classes tomorrow, but I'll be posting excerpts from Meghan McCain's moving comments about her dad, and his own last words to us all.
See you around campus.