The most damaging contrast made at McCain’s funeral

Meghan McCain speaking at the memorial service
REUTERS/Chris Wattie
Meghan McCain speaking at the memorial service of Senator John McCain at National Cathedral in Washington on Saturday.

Because of the long weekend, I’m late weighing in on the interesting, lovely and feisty funeral service for Sen. John McCain. But I’ll weigh in anyway, in the faint hope that my take is a little different from the most common one.

Basically, I appreciated almost everything that was said during the long ceremony and I wish the grieving McCains the best. I disagreed with  McCain on many issues, mostly across the hawk/dove divide. But he stood out for his candor and relative intellectual honesty, and for his willingness to buck his party when his principles required it, and to work with Democrats to get things done, like the famed McCain Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which was a heroic effort at reducing the corrupting power of money in politics.

But back to the memorial service. The heartfelt sentiments expressed, including the various not-even-thinly-veiled criticisms of Donald Trump, while elegant, were completely unsurprising.

We are all supposed to be agog at the fact that McCain’s daughter Meghan took a few shots at President Trump. Most of the commentary I heard, at least in the immediate aftermath, was about this passage from her remarks:

The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.

Meghan McCain actually found at least three ways to slam the current White House incumbent during her remarks. (Here’s another one: “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.” Here’s a column that excerpts the highlights from her remarks.)

The contrast between McCain’s military record and heroism as a POW (most specifically because he refused to accept an early release based on his admiral father’s high rank, and suffered brutal beatings that resulted in permanent injuries) and Trump’s success at avoiding military service made for a powerful statement, unflattering to Trump.

(Trump, who was not asked to attend and who spent the day golfing, was assumed to be replying when he brilliantly tweeted “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.” Is there no limit to his subtle brilliance?)

But, of course, this damning contrast was well known before Saturday. The cathedral was crowded with Republican officeholders, who came to honor McCain but most of whom, in their day jobs, have chosen, for the most blatantly obvious reasons of political survival, to speak no ill of the current occupant of the Oval Office, even though they well understand his flaws and his unfitness for the job he holds.

The first question is how they felt about their own lack of courage in their unwillingness to honestly discuss the character of their current leader.

The second question is how Trump’s unshakably loyal, hyper-patriotic base understands the contrast between their cult’s leader and the departed senator. Do they not know about Trump’s avoidance of the draft during the Vietnam War? Do they not care? Nothing that happened over the holiday weekend shed much light on that question.

And that’s the question that haunts me.

Comments (30)

  1. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/04/2018 - 11:37 am.

    The draft dodging is a non-issue for Trump’s supporters, because they have the inevitable “what about Bill Clinton?” deflection to fall back on. No, it doesn’t erase the fact of Trump’s dodging, nor does it make it any better in any real ethical sense, but it makes them feel better to have something to yell about.

    The Vietnam era draft does raise some pertinent questions about class and race in America. The odds that the son of a wealthy New York real estate developer was going to go to Vietnam unless he volunteered were roughly as remote as the odds that a Rhodes Scholar from Arkansas or grandson of a President, son-in-law of another, was going to go. The wealthy and powerful, or even the well-connected, could always find some way out of the draft.

    Back then, that was common in even middle class circles. Mainstream magazines had semi-tongue-in-cheek articles about the best ways to beat the draft. A minor medical issue could be turned into a medical disqualification even if the inflicted one could have enlisted voluntarily. Marriage and a child could let those with an intellectual bent complete their doctorates in European history that were more important than military service. Those were the times we lived in.

    What is disturbing is the attitude now towards service then. It’s no surprise that Donald Trump used his bone spurs to get out of the draft. It’s equally unsurprising that he does not attempt to address that decision in any meaningful way. Was he opposed to the war in Vietnam? Or did he have the cossetted rich kid’s indifference to it? What ever his attitude, shouldn’t common decency lead him to regard those who didn’t/couldn’t take the same path he did with some respect?

    • Submitted by Arthur Swenson on 09/07/2018 - 11:20 am.

      Mr Holbrook: Your comments are right on, as usual. I clearly remember coming home to Mpls after completing basic training. I saw my friend since 6th grade who lived two houses away from my folks’ house. (He was legitimately 4F because of childhood polio). We agreed to go bar hopping that night and catch up. I got ready first, and went to pick him up. His mother greeted me by saying “David was able to avoid the draft, why couldn’t you? I thought you were smarter than that.”

      i only relate this to show that the draft, the war and the military were disparaged throughout Society in 1966. The idea that one would serve, simply because one was called was rather quaint, even then.

  2. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 09/04/2018 - 11:41 am.

    If they think t”Trump is smart for paying no federal income taxes, thereby not contributing a dime to our national defense, why would they think he was not just as smart to avoid going to Vietnam. Of course men of character like John MCCain and John Kerry served at risk to themselves, and got attacked for not sustaining serious enough injuries or being killed. For Trump’s most vocal supporters, they are just as self justifying of their privileged status as Trump is of his.

  3. Submitted by Misty Martin on 09/04/2018 - 12:05 pm.

    It was a lovely send-off, and I agree with all of the eulogies spoken for this great man. Was it just me, or when Meghan McCain was speaking about her father, did it look like Ivanka and Jared Kushner were hanging their heads a bit when she made her remarks aimed at President Trump? Or maybe I was just imagining it, because I know I would have been ashamed if I had been sitting in their places and wearing their shoes.

    To quote the end of Joe Biden’s lovely farewell speech given at the Arizona memorial, and he was paraphrasing Shakespeare, “We won’t see the like of him again.” I believe the original quote goes something like, “He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.” Anyway, it was beautiful, as were all the remembrances of this late, great Senator, Patriot and American Hero.

    • Submitted by Frank Anderson on 09/05/2018 - 06:07 am.

      Really, read what the Democrats did to him when he ran in 2008. This whole thing was nothing but a joke and a Wellstone Memorial II. Lets be real and check that Bush hated McCain and McCain hated Bush. Why don’t people deal in facts?

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/04/2018 - 12:19 pm.

    Who’s damaged, and how?

  5. Submitted by John Webster on 09/04/2018 - 12:22 pm.

    Trump has made countless appalling comments over his career, with the second worst one being when he minimized the suffering ofJohn McCain as a POW in Vietnam. While watching news clips of the McCain funeral, I was struck by the contrast between the McCain and Trump families. John McCain gave long service in uniform to the nation; Trump used every possible excuse to avoid serving. Two McCain sons attended the funeral in military uniform; it’s inconceivable that any Trump child would ever serve at any time for any reason. Trump’s insulting remark about McCain’s POW experience is beneath contempt and shows what a low character person Trump is.

    But let’s avoid indulging in phony indignation and in assuming moral superiority to Trump voters. Almost all of them know that Trump is a deeply flawed person and wish it were otherwise. But they voted for the lesser evil as they perceived it. It’s the same reason that New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez will likely be re-elected in 2018, although it’s clear that he is a disreputable man, probably even a criminal. Voters in NJ know Menendez is shady, and most of them also want a Democratic Senate majority come 2019. They”ll mark their ballots for him, and then gag (or worse). If Trump runs for re-election in 2020, tens of millions of people will vote for him and then react the same way afterward.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/04/2018 - 01:05 pm.

      Calling Trump “the lesser of two evils” is a cop out. All it does is to remove the responsibility for Trump squarely where it lies, with those who supported him and voted for him for whatever reason.

      Why are there no Republicans willing to stand up to Trump until they are on their ways out of office? The man’s presidency has been defined by his lies and reprehensible statements. Why is that not just wrong? Why does it have to be compared to what a Democrat did (“The libs in New Jersey overlooked a mistrial and a decision by the Justice Department to drop all of the charges against Senator Menendez. They’re just doing the same thing!”)? Why has fealty for Trump become the litmus tests for Republicans?

      If the Republicans truly had any principles other than hatred and disdain for liberals, someone would have stood up against Trump long ago. The fact that his antics are met with a “Lesser of two evils” deflection shows the moral bankruptcy of the right wing in America.

      • Submitted by John Webster on 09/04/2018 - 03:00 pm.

        What you want is for Republicans to unilaterally disarm, to hold their miscreants to account while Democrats don’t demand high standards from their elected officials. I’ve made clear that I don’t respect Trump as a person and I deplore his low character. No elected Democrats were willing to hold Hillary Clinton to account for her misdeeds; they’ve done everything possible to obstruct any investigation of her. I favor the current investigations of Trump; do you support investigating Hillary’s past? I thought so.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/04/2018 - 04:05 pm.

          What I want is some recognition that maybe, just maybe, ethical notions and the integrity of our nation transcend considerations of partisan politics. Your characterization of calling out Trump as “unilateral disarmament” characterizes governance of a democracy as a game of “gotcha.” “I can’t criticize my guy until you criticize yours with what I deem to be sufficient vigor.” That’s not democracy, that’s a schoolyard spat.

          “I favor the current investigations of Trump; do you support investigating Hillary’s past? I thought so.” When will you people get over Hillary Clinton (she has a last name, you know)? Shed was investigated for months by hostile committees who came up with nothing. Why are you incapable of grasping the fact that she is no longer a public official, and that there is no plausible scenario under which she will return to public life? You’re telling me, once again, that you are unconcerned with ethics, and you are unconcerned with any kind of accountability that tries to rise above score settling.

          Donald Trump is President. Deal with it. He is the President, and he is the one who must be accountable for his actions regardless of what Hillary Clinton may or may not have done. I would think that someone who doesn’t respect Trump as a person” and who “deplore[s] his low character” would shrink at emulating his style.

        • Submitted by ian wade on 09/04/2018 - 05:53 pm.

          Hillary Clinton has been investigated more than any other political official. Golden Boy Trey Gowdy was reduced to flop sweat after 13 hours of grilling her and still found nothing. By contrast, Trump lost it after 1/2 practice session for a possible Mueller hearing.
          I think the real issue here is that at some point, Republicans have to come to realize that the Hillary Clinton that’s alive in their heads, bears no resemblance to reality. “She must be guilty of something” has no validity even in fantasy at this point.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/05/2018 - 09:02 am.

          Any claim that Republicans demand high standards of any kind is simply delusional. The party is a magnet for incompetents, miscreants, and sociopaths. I don’t expect them to disarm… but they could try to find a way to have some integrity.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/05/2018 - 09:09 am.

        By the way, the only way that anyone could possibly conclude that Trump was the LESSER of two evils was to bury their heads in a block of cement with a rubber tube to breath though and a set of earphones connected to Fox news 24/7. Anyone who paid any attention at ALL could see what a toxic miscreant Trump was.

  6. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/04/2018 - 12:53 pm.

    The history of draft dodging Republicans is long and shameless.

    Unlike his old man, Bush 43 had no qualms about a cushy National Guard gig instead of combat in Vietnam. Cheney had several deferments, explaining later that he had “other priorities then”. This did not stop Karl Rove from calling triple amputee Vietnam vet Sen. Max Cleland un-American in order to deny him re-election. Of course John Kerry got the same treatment.

    These arm chair warriors are horrible, a disgrace. It’s disgusting what they have done to American vets who laid it all on the line when they were asked to. Some might even comment Sad!

    But make no mistake, Don Trump is on a very well worn GOP path.

  7. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 09/04/2018 - 12:54 pm.

    When I registered for the draft in the Seventies, there was little chance that I would not go to Vietnam unless I became a draft dodger like Trump, but the end of the Vietnam War made my decision unnecessary; that conflict still focused my attention on issues related to war and service for the rest of my life.

    For some folks, the issues are cut and dried, mostly because they haven’t really thought things through, and I think that’s the answer to Mr. Black’s questions: Trump’s supporters either don’t know or don’t care and are blind to all but the means to their own petty goals.

  8. Submitted by Tim Smith on 09/04/2018 - 01:24 pm.

    John MCain was a true Amrican hero and I only regret he was not our President. He would have made a great one.

    Some of the words spoken at the fuineral, although adored by the left and never Trumpers and swampers, made McCain and family come across small and petty at times (Just like calling Trump supporters a cult, fave fad on the left it seems). Minnesotans should know that Funerals are not a good back drop for politicval rallies or vendettas.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/04/2018 - 04:38 pm.

      Funny thing is, I don’t recall anyone mentioning Trump by name. There were a lot of invocations of public service and patriotism, and a remark that America didn’t need to be made great “again.” Those are the remarks you regard as “small and petty.”

      What was that again about not liking the “cult” comparison?

    • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 09/04/2018 - 08:48 pm.

      Hadn’t really thought a great deal about how a lefty like me could have such affinity for Sen. McCain and his family until listening to Megan McCain eulogize her father. When the Navy whisked my teenaged Dad out of high school at the beginning of WW II to prep school, university, medical school, Korea, and eventually home, it led to him, me and my siblings gathering round my mother playing piano to sing all the parts and verses of Travelers together as that’s who we were, who we remain, a sort of US Navy auxiliary. I always wanted to fly like John McCain, not practice medicine like my father, but never did either; I did become a patriot like both of them, and share a disgust of Donald John Trump, who should resign and crawl under a rock someplace, perhaps at one of his golf courses.

  9. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/04/2018 - 02:05 pm.

    “Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels”
    ……….Samuel Johnson
    And also Republicans.
    As Paul Krugman (among many others) has pointed out, since the 1960’sthe Republican party has been about acquiring power, not governing.
    Republican voters have become fixated on maintaining the social order. That is, the dominance of the white upper classes (as Garrison Keillor has pointed out, they all thing that they’re above average).
    As long as Trump puts ‘the others’ down and keeps them down, he’ll keep his hard core voters.
    Hopefully, those opposed to him and his ilk will get out and vote this time.

  10. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 09/04/2018 - 02:08 pm.

    I think McCain’s family had the right to say anything they wanted to say at his funeral; they certianly didn’t say anything McCain himself wouldn’t have said.

    In fact, let me say for the record, that there isn’t anything anyone can say at any time, or in any place that would surprise me; after all it’s the current year.

    However I’m at a loss to understand the nasty disrespect he and his family showed to Sarah Palin. Like her or hate her, she was a loyal 2nd Lieutenant to McCain. Snubbing her was an obvious fit of pique, and pretty trashy.

    • Submitted by ian wade on 09/04/2018 - 03:57 pm.

      Palin was thrown on the ticket for political expedience. By all accounts, McCain was never enamored with her and their political partnership ended the day he gave his concession speech. Considering the vitriol that Trump and his supporters (which Palin considers herself) have shown McCain, his family showed nothing but class throughout this ordeal.
      I find it fascinating that Trump is lauded for his vulgarity and “tell it like it is” persona but his supporters recoil and whine about shoddy treatment when that same standard is mirrored back.

  11. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/04/2018 - 02:31 pm.

    Warfare and service to the country are issues most of us don’t think about much because so few Americans (including at least a few who aren’t even citizens!) are involved. It’s one of the (presumably) unintended consequences of eliminating the military draft. Most of us don’t think about warfare or national service because very few of us have taken up arms in defense of the country, or in some other way served the country, nor will many of us even know someone else who has done so. I suspect people who have loved ones in the military are far more attuned to these kinds of things than are most citizens, and even in that context, perhaps because the numbers involved are so small compared to our population, it’s pretty easy for those in the military to simply become another special interest group, lobbying Congress for more money.

    I usually disagreed with John McCain, but I always listened to what he had to say, especially on matters of war and peace, because he had actually walked the walk – painful though it surely was as he and his injuries aged – and generally avoided pontificating unnecessarily. Most of the flag-waving rhetoric comes from people who’ve never been in combat. Those who have are not often eager to see more people killed without very good reason.

    • Submitted by Ole Johnson on 09/04/2018 - 03:37 pm.

      Huh? John McCain was an avid war monger if nothing else. Can you name me any intervention since Vietnam that he was against?

      The is the man who sang “bomb Iran”, was apoplectic that Obama didn’t put boots on the ground in Syria.

      If I were still in the Marines, or if my kids were in uniform, I would be very happy that McCain is no longer in the Senate advocating for more foreign interventions.

    • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 09/05/2018 - 11:50 am.

      We should have mandatory service again, certainly not exclusively a military draft, but no one questioned the draft until we made fundamental errors during the Cold War, including Vietnam. Whether it is a year or two of grunt work or that for which we have passion and the ability to do, it could end this schism we have lived with since the Vietnam War, a schism that hardly mattered to John McCain.

      Though McCain was on the other side from many of us, unlike those in the majority of his party, war monger or not, he could and would sit and talk about issues with political opponents and perhaps even reach consensus on what to do; that is how a guvmit with a two party system works, but that path died with McCain.

      McCain’s party remains the real roadblock to our liberty. Republicans led by Donald John Trump have brought us down so far, so fast, that we need to sweep them all out in November to preserve it. MAGA: vote for a Democrat and prod them all to do what is necessary to return us to “liberty and justice for all.”

  12. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/04/2018 - 03:32 pm.

    Some folks leave a better message in death than others in life. From this vantage point we have Maximus Decimus Meridius (McCain) and Commodus as (Trump). McCain was honored and buried as a soldier of America. Trump, that finale is yet to be written. But it appears the “Trumpies” really like the gladiator games, each day someone, some country, is thrown in the arena! Ironic wouldn’t you think on the similarities?
    “The time for honoring yourself will soon be at an end… “Highness””

  13. Submitted by Roy Everson on 09/04/2018 - 04:57 pm.

    We’ll finally see if Trump can get away with shooting someone on 5th Avenue in NYC. He tried to outshoot a dying war hero with brain cancer — much to his tribe members’ cheers — but the fellow got justice at his own funeral like it was an old Frank Capra movie. This must have been the tipping point for at least a few of those people.

  14. Submitted by Richard Helle on 09/04/2018 - 11:25 pm.

    In 2000 the GOP Race was decided in South Carolina by a whisper campaign alleging McCain fathered an illegitimate child with a woman of color. If McCain had gotten the GOP nomination, it’s likely he would’ve won the Presidency. What a different world we would be living in now.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/06/2018 - 08:20 am.

      Just how would the world be different? Would Iraq have been spared in favor of invading Iran? Or been would it have been Syria? Quite possibly it would have been both, because it’s difficult to imagine 4 or especially 8 years of a McCain White House without an invasion or tow somewhere.

      “Bomb bomb bomb…”

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