The Slatest

Bush Says McCain “Detested the Abuse of Power, Could Not Abide Bigots and Swaggering Despots”

Former President George W. Bush speaks during a memorial service for Senator John McCain at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on September 1, 2018.
Former President George W. Bush speaks during a memorial service for Senator John McCain at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on September 1, 2018.
SAUL LOEB/Getty Images

Former President George W. Bush honored late Sen. John McCain as a man of integrity who loved freedom and would not hesitate to speak his mind, even if it offended important people. “He was honest, no matter who it offended,” Bush said in his eulogy at the Washington National Cathedral. “Presidents were not spared. He was honorable, always recognizing that his opponents were patriots and human beings.”

Bush also managed to get a few laughs from some of the thousands of people gathered at the Washington National Cathedral as he recalled his former bitter rival. “Back in the day, he could frustrate me,” Bush said to laughter. “And I know he’d say the same thing about me.” The former president also recalled how “moments before my last debate—ever—with Senator John Kerry in Phoenix, I was trying to gather some thoughts in the holding room. I felt a presence… opened my eyes…and six inches from my face was McCain, who yelled, ‘RELAX! RELAX!’”

Ultimately though, Bush recalled how his rivalry with McCain eventually “melted away” and he was able “to enjoy one of life’s great gifts: the friendship of John McCain.”

Like several others who spoke on Saturday at the service, it was difficult not to read some of the praise of McCain as a rebuke of the current occupant in the White House. “Perhaps above all, John detested the abuse of power,” Bush said. “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.”

Bush also said McCain could always serve as a reminder of the basic ideals that all political leaders should be able to support. “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,” Bush said. “America is better than this.”