Former Vice President Joe Biden pegged the mid-’90s as the point when comity in Washington “began to go downhill” as he remembered late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as someone who exemplified basic American values: “Fairness, honesty, dignity, respect, giving hate no safe harbor, leaving no one behind, and understanding that as Americans, we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves.”
Biden eulogized McCain at a memorial service at the North Phoenix Baptist Church, where Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” played and tributes were delivered by the senator’s family and friends, including Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. “There are so many differences between the two of us and it didn’t matter,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s about just loving people for who they are and I think I’m going to do my best to convey that message.”
Biden, whose son Beau died in 2015 from the same kind of brain cancer that McCain had, said he and McCain both knew “from our different experiences that, and as our life progressed we learned even more, that there are times when life can be so cruel, pain so blinding it’s hard to see anything else.”
“The disease that took John’s life, took our mutual friend Teddy’s life, the exact same disease nine years ago a couple of days ago. And three years ago, it took my beautiful son Beau’s life. It’s brutal, it’s relentless, it’s unforgiving and it takes so much from those we love and from the families who love them that in order to survive we have to remember how they lived, not how they died,” he said. “…You will all find your own images, whether it’s remembering his smile or his laugh or touching his shoulder or just running his hand down your cheek, or just feeling like someone’s looking at — turning and seeing him just smiling at you.”
The VP began his eulogy with the words, “My name’s Joe Biden. I’m a Democrat. And I loved John McCain.”
He said he “always thought of John as a brother” with “a hell of a lot of family fights.”
“We’d talk about family, we’d talk about politics, we’d talk about international relations, we’d talk about promise, the promise of America because we’re both cockeyed optimists and really believe that there’s not a single thing beyond the capacity of this country,” he added.
Biden said that McCain had “a value set that was neither selfish nor self-serving: John understood that America was, first and foremost, an idea, audacious and risky, organized around not tribe but around ideals. Think of how he approached every issue.”
He recalled that “during long debates in the ’80s and ’90s, as some of the colleagues who were around then would know, I’d always go over and sit next to John, next to his seat, or he’d come over on the Democratic side and sit next to me,” but in 1996 their respective caucuses told the senators that it didn’t look good for the two to be sitting together.
“That’s when things began to change for the worse in America, in the Senate. That’s when it changed. What happened was at those times, it was always appropriate to challenge another senator’s judgment. But never appropriate to challenge their motive. When you challenge their motive, it’s impossible to get to go,” Biden said. “If I say you’re doing this because you’re being paid off, if I say you’re doing this because you’re not a good Christian, if I say you’re doing this because you’re this, that or the other thing, it’s impossible to reach consensus.”
“…Whenever I was in trouble, John was the first guy there, and I hope I was there for him. And we never hesitated to give each other advice. He’d call me in the middle of the campaign and say, ‘What the hell did you say that for?’ Wasn’t on an issue. Like, ‘You just screwed up, Joe, you know?’ And I’d occasionally call him.”
Biden said that “Americans saw how he lived his life that way and they knew the truth of what he was saying,” thus McCain “gave Americans confidence.”
“John knew ordinary Americans understood that each of us has a duty to defend the integrity, dignity and birthright of every child. They carried it; that good communities are built by thousands of small acts of decency that Americans, as I speak today, show each other every single day; that very deep in the DNA of this nation’s soul lies a flame that was lit over 200 years ago that each of us carries with us, and each one of us has the capacity, the responsibility, and we can screw up the courage to ensure that’s not extinguished,” he said. “And it’s a thousand little things that make us different.”
McCain will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol on Friday before a Saturday memorial service at the National Cathedral.