The Slatest

Obama: Let’s Honor John McCain by Rising Above “Mean and Petty” Politics

Former president Barack Obama speaks at the funeral service for Sen. John McCain at the National Cathedral on September 1, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
Former president Barack Obama speaks at the funeral service for Sen. John McCain at the National Cathedral on September 1, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama appeared to take a few not-so-subtle digs at President Donald Trump during his eulogy for Sen. John McCain on Saturday. Obama described McCain as a principled patriot who was able to stand up for what he believed in, regardless of party. Obama, who defeated McCain for the presidency in 2008, said the late senator always called on his fellow Americans to be bigger and better than the “small and mean and petty” politics of Washington.

“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,” Obama said in what appeared to be a jab at the current occupant in the White House. “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.” Obama went on to say that perhaps the best way to honor McCain is to recognize “there are some things bigger than party, or ambition, or money, or fame, or power, that there are some things that are worth risking everything for.”

During his tribute, Obama also recalled how he and McCain had private meetings at the White House. “We didn’t advertise it, but every so often over the course of my presidency, John would come over to the White House and we’d just sit and talk in the Oval Office, just the two of us,” Obama said. Although their differences were clear, “we enjoyed the time we shared away from the bright lights. And we laughed with each other.”

Obama even managed to include a bit of humor in his somber address. “I have a reputation for keeping cool. John, not so much,” Obama said as some in the Cathedral laughed. The biggest laugh of his eulogy though came when the former president reflected on the way McCain asked him and former president George W. Bush—his two former rivals—to deliver eulogies. “It showed his irreverence, his sense of humor, a little bit of a mischievous streak. After all, what better way to get a last laugh than to make George and I say nice things about him to a national audience,” Obama said. “And most of all, it showed a largeness of spirit, an ability to see past differences in search of common ground.”