Former Vice President Joe Biden described the loss of his friend and colleague Sen. John McCain as “all-consuming, like being sucked into a black hole inside your chest.”
The personal loss felt by many was apparent in every tribute delivered at North Phoenix Baptist Church on August 30, but Biden’s eulogy spoke to a grander loss for democracy – the loss of the civility and values that allowed a Democrat like Biden to befriend a Republican like McCain.
“John’s code was ageless, is ageless,” Biden said. “It wasn’t about politics with John… but the underlying values that animated everything that John did, everything he was.”
As he delivered that line, his voice rose and echoed around the church. He’d been speaking softly, often directly to McCain’s wife, Cindy McCain, and children, his tone somber.
But as he turned to McCain’s approach to politics, he took time to excoriate the way things are today.
He said all the parties do today is attack the motives of their opponents’ arguments rather than their substance, something he and McCain lamented. And he told of how he and McCain, late in their careers, received awards for simply working together.
“Think about this,” he said. “Getting an award for your civility. Getting an award for bipartisanship.”
He said the moment McCain parted ways with someone he disagreed with was not the point at which he reached a different conclusion but the point at which someone showed themselves to lack basic decency and respect and the inability to know “this project is bigger than yourself.”
McCain’s approach to his role first as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives then three decades as a senator was lauded by all who spoke at the funeral. There were light-hearted stories about his “ridiculously bad driving,” as told by former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, and his insistence that Democrat Tommy Espinoza speak on his behalf at the Republican National Convention.
But no matter how many laughs the speakers elicited, they always returned to his character and dedication to ensuring people’s right to live free.
“In the end, when it’s all said and done, this Republican-Democratic thing is not that important,” said Woods, who served as McCain’s chief of staff. “We’re all Americans.”
McCain practiced the old way of governing, the way that did not simply allow him to work across the aisle but compelled him to do so.
Woods said that’s what has brought Arizonans out to mourn him en masse – a worry about the bigger picture for a country without McCain and a hope that the leaders who follow him will follow his example.
“He fought the good fight. He finished the race. He kept the faith. Now my friend, we can finish the song,” Woods said, referring to McCain’s favorite Christmas hymn “Silent Night.” “Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace.”
At least now, Pastor Noe Garcia quipped, McCain’s biggest worry can be figuring out which channel in heaven will let him watch Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Jr., who also spoke at the service.
And even in her grief, his daughter Meghan McCain mirrored her father’s hope: “John McCain, hero of the republic and to his little girl, wakes today to something more glorious than anything on this earth. Today the warrior enters his true and eternal life, greeted by those who have gone before him, rising to meet the author of all things. The dream is ended: this is the morning. ”
As he concluded his tribute, Biden harkened back to that optimism McCain had for the country. He said McCain will be so missed not for his heroism but because he knew “heroes didn’t build this country” – ordinary people willing to do extraordinary things did.
In short, he said, “John McCain’s impact on America is not over.”