McCain’s last stand for unity highlights Obama, Bush, Biden

McCain’s last stand for unity highlights Obama, Bush, Biden
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One of the saddest but most noble and inspiring moments of the 21st century was the final message to the nation meticulously planned for this week by the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainPence met with silence after mentioning Trump in Munich speech Mark Kelly's campaign raises over M in days after launching Senate bid The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers wait for Trump's next move on border deal MORE (R-Ariz.).  

The New York Times published an extraordinary story about the degree of planning and thought McCain gave to the events that unfolded during the week after he left this earth and ascended to heaven.

McCain wanted to make the most powerful statement he could about his vision of an America, where our most powerful leaders from both political parties could work together in a bipartisan spirit to do what is right for the nation. McCain dreamed of an America where once again our politics could return to a spirit of mutual respect, shared patriotism and common purpose, without the vindictiveness and invective that embroil America today.


More than any person in American politics in the 21st century, John McCain was the true leader of the party of Abraham Lincoln, who believed in uniting our nation, healing our wounds, lifting our sights and elevating our civic spirit and political discourse. 

Today, at the National Cathedral in Washington, leading Democrats and Republicans join together to offer their heartfelt farewells to the man who embodied the epitome of bipartisanship and statesmanship in public life.

Let’s focus on three individuals who McCain specifically wanted to be part of the ceremonies we witnessed this week.

In the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, McCain and then-Gov. George W. Bush (R-Texas) waged a fierce campaign against each other for their party’s nomination.

In the 2008 presidential election, McCain and then-U.S. Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaNBA commissioner announces Barack Obama to be involved with Basketball Africa League We need this affordable housing program now more than ever Intelligence for the days after President Trump leaves office MORE (D-Ill.) waged a similarly fierce campaign against each other for the presidency.

In the 2008 general election, then-U.S. Sen. Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBill Maher to Dems: ‘Let’s not eat our own’ in 2020 Newsom endorses Kamala Harris for president Trump, Biden in dead heat in hypothetical 2020 matchup among Texas voters MORE (D-Del.), running with Obama on the ticket, campaigned aggressively but respectfully against McCain.

It is a quintessentially McCain moment that three Americans who were the strongest opponents of his greatest ambition, to be president of the United States and commander in chief of the American military, were at the top of the list of those McCain wanted to be prominent at the ceremonies honoring him, remembering him, and reminding Americans and the world of everything he stood for. 

It is extraordinary for any political leader to reach out in life to leading political opponents to remember and honor him in death.

By contrast, consider the behavior of the politician I will not name in this column toward his political opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in his campaign to become president of the United States and commander in chief of the America military.

McCain developed a profound respect for President Obama, President Bush and Vice President Biden that transcended time and soared above partisan politics.  For Obama, Bush and Biden the feeling was mutual, which represents the best of American democracy as they rise to honor and remember McCain this week.

Throughout his brilliant career in the Senate, McCain worked with a long list of Democratic and Republican senators, including some who were often his greatest friends and allies, such as former Senate Republican leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), and others who were often political adversaries but also became his close friends and sometime collaborators, such as the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). 

When Kennedy died nine years to the day before McCain, from the same form of brain cancer that tragically took them both, McCain passionately eulogized his close friend Kennedy at the JFK Library in Boston.

In his upcoming book, “Every Day is Extra,” which will be released Tuesday, former Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryWarren taps longtime aide as 2020 campaign manager In Virginia, due process should count more than blind team support Trump will give State of Union to sea of opponents MORE (D-Mass.) describes his rivalry, friendship and collaborations with McCain at length. One chapter tells the story of how these two Vietnam war heroes and Senate colleagues worked together assiduously and successfully to normalize American relations with Vietnam, which was a historic achievement for both leaders.

In another chapter that will generate significant buzz  throughout the political community and from American historians, Kerry describes how he and McCain discussed the possibility of McCain running as Kerry’s vice presidential nominee in the 2004 presidential election.

We live at a moment of great national divisions, which McCain sought to heal. We live at a time of hostile partisan politics, which McCain sought to transcend. We live in an era of foreign attacks against American democracy, which McCain battled for a lifetime to defend. 

As we observe Saturday’s events at the National Cathedral, which will bring together leaders and luminaries throughout official Washington, it is fair and right to ask: Who among them will truly walk in McCain’s footsteps and honor by their work the profiles in courage that defined McCain’s life and dreams for America?

Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the U.S. House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics.