Former Democratic president Barack Obama denounced the current state of U.S. politics as “mean and petty” at a memorial service Saturday for longtime Senator John McCain in Washington's National Cathedral, who died a week ago after a long battle with brain cancer.
“Isn’t that the spirit we celebrate this week, that striving to be better, to do better, to be worthy of the great inheritance that our founders bestowed?” Obama asked as he delivered a eulogy for his friend and occasional political opponent.
“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.
Without mentioning President Donald Trump by name, Obama added, “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.”
In his eulogy for his fellow Republican, former president George W. Bush said McCain “was honorable, always recognizing that his opponents were still patriots and human beings.”
But as Bush continued, he, too, rejected the status quo of Washington politics, which he said is contrary to McCain’s personal beliefs.
“He respected the dignity inherent in every life, a dignity that does not stop at borders and cannot be erased by dictators,” Bush said. “Perhaps above all, John detested the abuse of power.”
Bush and Obama were invited to remember their friend at the service, which McCain planned himself as he battled his brain cancer.
Bush and Obama were among hundreds of family, friends, former congressional colleagues and staff members who gathered at the cathedral before McCain’s flag-draped coffin. They were invited to the service, which McCain planned as he battled brain cancer.
Dozens of current and former U.S. officials, members of Congress and foreign dignitaries were also in attendance.
McCain’s daughter, Meghan, also paid tribute to her father with a veiled reference to Trump and his ‘make America great again’ mantra.
“America does not boast because she does not need to. The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great,” she said to applause.
"We live in an era where we knock down old American heroes for all their imperfections when no leader wants to admit to fault or failure,” Meghan said and added her father was “an exception and you gave us an ideal to strive for.”
McCain's body laid in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda Friday into Saturday morning after a ceremony honoring McCain. It was attended by McCain's wife, Cindy, his seven children and his 106-year-old mother, along with hundreds of members of Congress.
At the Capitol, McCain's coffin rested on a wooden platform known as a catafalque, which was first used in 1865 to support the casket of assassinated president Abraham Lincoln.
The cortege Saturday from the Capitol to National Cathedral paused at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where the late senator’s wife, Cindy McCain, laid a wreath to honor those who died in the war.
In addition to Obama and Bush, among those who delivered tributes and readings Saturday, were Senator Lindsey Graham, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who advised then-president Richard Nixon on Vietnam, and other McCain family members.
McCain's pallbearers included actor Warren Beatty, former vice president Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Russian dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza.
McCain said in a farewell letter to the country, "We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe." He added, "We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been."
Trump has not been invited to any of the ceremonies for McCain, a decision viewed by many as a rebuke of Trump. A bitter feud between Trump and the two- time presidential hopeful took root during Trump's 2016 campaign, when he mocked McCain for getting captured during the Vietnam War. "He's not a war hero," Trump said. "He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured."
Trump received military deferments from service during the Vietnam War for his college education and bone spurs in his heels.
McCain will be buried Sunday at his college alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Biden on Thursday described his old friend as a man who lived by an ageless code of honor, courage and duty.
"Character is destiny, John had character," Biden said at a funeral service for McCain in the Arizona capital of Phoenix.
McCain died last Saturday at the age of 81.