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Obama praises John McCain in speech

8 min read

JOHN McCain’s daughter and two former presidents led a public rebuke of US President Donald Trump’s divisive politics at the late senator’s memorial service in a call for a return to civility among the nation’s leaders.

The nearly three-hour service at the Washington National Cathedral was a remarkable show of defiance against a president McCain openly defied in life as the antithesis of the American spirit of service to something greater than any individual

The eulogies were read by Barack Obama and George W. Bush, who had each stymied Mr McCain’s presidential aspirations – in the 2008 election and 2000 Republican primaries respectively – at his request.

Former President Barack Obama speaks at a memorial service for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. McCain died Aug. 25, from brain cancer at age 81. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Former President Barack Obama speaks at a memorial service for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. McCain died Aug. 25, from brain cancer at age 81. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)Source:AP

Mr Obama described being asked to eulogise his former opponent as “a precious and singular honour”, but confessed he was surprised to be asked earlier this year to do so by McCain.

“I’ll admit sadness but also a certain surprise but after our conversation,” which he said reflected McCain’s “irreverence, sense of humour, and little bit of a mischievous streak”.

“After all, what better way to have the last laugh than to make George and I say nice things about him to a national audience,” Mr Obama said to laughter from the attendees.

(L-R) Former First Lady Michelle Obama, former US President Barack Obama, former Vice President Al Gore, and former US President George W. Bush arrive for the Memorial Service for US Senator John McCain at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC, September 1, 2018. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

(L-R) Former First Lady Michelle Obama, former US President Barack Obama, former Vice President Al Gore, and former US President George W. Bush arrive for the Memorial Service for US Senator John McCain at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC, September 1, 2018. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)Source:AFP

Mr Obama spoke of McCain as understanding that America’s security and influence came not from “our ability to bend others to our will” but universal values of rule of law and human rights.

Senator John McCain looks while US President Barack Obama (L) makes remarks on government contracts reform in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus in Washington 04/03/2009.

Senator John McCain looks while US President Barack Obama (L) makes remarks on government contracts reform in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus in Washington 04/03/2009.Source:AP

“So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty, tracking in bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage,” Mr Obama said in another not-so-veiled nod to Mr Trump.

“It’s a politics that pretends to be brave and tough but in fact is born in fear. John called on us to be bigger than that. He called on us to be better than that.”

Meghan McCain speaks at a memorial service for her father, John McCain.

Meghan McCain speaks at a memorial service for her father, John McCain.Source:AP

John McCain’s daughter opened his memorial service by posing her father’s legacy as a direct challenge to US President Donald Trump.

Meghan McCain said her father was a “great man” and she encouraged others to live up to his example during the service at the Washington National Cathedral.

“We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness – the real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who lived lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served,” she said.

Former US president George W. Bush. Picture: AP

Former US president George W. Bush. Picture: APSource:AP

She said to applause, “The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.” Trump is not on hand for the ceremony, after McCain’s family made clear he was not invited.

The American war hero and towering Republican leader was remembered as “one of the bravest souls our nation has ever produced”.

Barack Obama pays tribute. Picture: AP

Barack Obama pays tribute. Picture: APSource:AP

Former US president George W Bush and Senator John McCain. Picture: AP

Former US president George W Bush and Senator John McCain. Picture: APSource:AP

John McCain and Barack Obama, the man who beat him for the presidency. Picture: Supplied

John McCain and Barack Obama, the man who beat him for the presidency. Picture: SuppliedSource:News Limited

Cindy McCain holds hands with her son James McCain as they follow a joint military service casket team carrying the casket of the late Senator John McCain following his funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral. Picture: Getty

Cindy McCain holds hands with her son James McCain as they follow a joint military service casket team carrying the casket of the late Senator John McCain following his funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral. Picture: GettySource:AFP

Mr Bush told of becoming friends with his former White House rival as the two would recall their political battles like former football players remembering the big game.

But mostly Mr Bush recalled a champion for the “forgotten people” at home and abroad whose legacy will serve as a reminder, even in times of doubt, in the power of America as more than a physical place but a “carrier of human aspirations.”

“John’s voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder – we are better than this, America is better than this,” Mr Bush said.

John McCain shares a photo with daughter Meghan on her TV show The View. Picture: ABC

John McCain shares a photo with daughter Meghan on her TV show The View. Picture: ABCSource:Supplied

Meghan McCain described her father as “a great fire who burned bright”. “A few have resented that fire … but my father never cared what they thought.

“And they have the opportunity, as long as they draw breath, to live up to the example of John McCain,” she said.

John McCain didn’t invite US President Donald Trump to his funeral. Picture: Supplied

John McCain didn’t invite US President Donald Trump to his funeral. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

Mr Trump, who was not invited to the services and has not served in armed conflict, had controversially mocked McCain during the 2016 election campaign for being captured by the Vietcong.

During McCain’s funeral Mr Trump was tweeting threats at Canada over a new NAFTA trade deal and then went and played golf.

Meghan McCain, daughter of US Senator John McCain, speaks during a Washington memorial service for her father. Picture: AFP

Meghan McCain, daughter of US Senator John McCain, speaks during a Washington memorial service for her father. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

“My father had every reason to think the world was an awful place, my father had every reason to think the world was not worth fighting for, my father had every reason to think the world was worth leaving,” Meghan McCain said, alluding to his favourite book, For Whom the Bell Tolls.

“He did not think any of those things. Like the hero of his favourite book John McCain took the opposite view. You had to have had a lot of luck to have such a good life.”

Cindy McCain, who has remained stoic at her husband’s services this week, fell into the arms of her son, Jack, as Renee Fleming sung Danny Boy, the Senator’s favourite song.

US actors Annette Bening and Warren Beatty. Picture: AFP

US actors Annette Bening and Warren Beatty. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

Former US Senator Bob Dole. Picture: AFP

Former US Senator Bob Dole. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner were among those inside the cathedral for the funeral.

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner at John McCain

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner at John McCain’s funeral. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

The bipartisan turnout included Bill and Hillary Clinton, the Obamas, senior members of the Trump administration, and many of the current Democrat leadership.

The Obamas sat next to the Bushes. One moment that was captured by social media users was when George W. Bush passed along a piece of candy from his wife, Laura Bush, to Michelle Obama.

(L-R) Former First Lady Michelle Obama, former US President Barack Obama, former Vice President Al Gore, and former US President George W. Bush. Picture: AFP

(L-R) Former First Lady Michelle Obama, former US President Barack Obama, former Vice President Al Gore, and former US President George W. Bush. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

Heavy crowds lined overcast Washington streets as a motorcade took McCain’s coffin past the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where his widow Cindy McCain laid a wreath about 9am local time (11pm AEST).

She was joined by members of her family, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Family members of Sen. John McCain, watch as his wife, Cindy McCain (R) accompanied by President Donald Trump

Family members of Sen. John McCain, watch as his wife, Cindy McCain (R) accompanied by President Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly (3rd R) and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis (2nd R) lays a wreath at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

It was the first event in a day planned by Mr MrCain, a proud veteran of the Vietnam conflict who was held captive for five and a half years during the war, and came ahead of his funeral at the National Cathedral.

Hollywood stars and senior Washington figures have joined Mr McCain’s family to offer their respects, where his body lay in state in the US Capitol.

Cindy McCain embraces Rev. Rosemarie Logan Duncan at the end of a memorial service for US Senator John McCain. Picture: AFP

Cindy McCain embraces Rev. Rosemarie Logan Duncan at the end of a memorial service for US Senator John McCain. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

From left, former first lady Laura Bush, former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former vice president Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne and former vice president Al Gore. Picture: AP

From left, former first lady Laura Bush, former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former vice president Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne and former vice president Al Gore. Picture: APSource:AP

Five days of memorials began on Wednesday in McCain’s hometown of Phoenix, Arizona and his coffin travelled to Washington for a public viewing on Friday ahead of this morning’s service.

Roberta McCain watches as the casket of her son, US Senator John McCain, is placed into a hearse at the end of his memorial service. Picture: AFP

Roberta McCain watches as the casket of her son, US Senator John McCain, is placed into a hearse at the end of his memorial service. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

Bridget McCain and Meghan McCain, daughters of Senator John McCain, watch as Cindy McCain, lays a wreath at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. Picture: AP

Bridget McCain and Meghan McCain, daughters of Senator John McCain, watch as Cindy McCain, lays a wreath at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. Picture: APSource:AP

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