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Week In Politics: The Week Of McCain


The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., is filled at this hour with current and former world leaders who are celebrating and memorializing Senator John McCain. Two former U.S. presidents are among the luminaries that have spoken today. We've been watching them along with NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: And there have been moving speeches by children and friends and old allies and old rivals. Let me get you to talk about two presidents who ran against John McCain for president - George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. As President Obama said, what better revenge than to get us - than to force us to say nice things about John to a national audience.

ELVING: It was a good line. But at the same time, I think that the genuine affection and the remarkable degree of respect and admiration for John McCain in both of these two speeches really would have to strike people. So there must have been a double smile there - not only getting his old rivals, the two men who frustrated his own presidential ambition - first in 2000, then in 2008 - to get up there and eulogize him in this way. Yeah, there'd be a smile in that from the rivalry standpoint, but I think there was a double smile in knowing that in the end, both of them would quite sincerely lionize him and respect the things that John cared most about in himself.

SIMON: Let's listen to George W. Bush for a moment.


GEORGE W. BUSH: For John and me, there was a personal journey - a hard-fought political history. Back in the day, he could frustrate me. And I know he'd say the same thing about me. But he also made me better. In recent years, we sometimes talk of that intense period like football players remembering a big game.

ELVING: Yes, and of course, you know, Scott, when old football players remember a big game, they never forget who actually won.

SIMON: (Laughter) And President Obama also spoke warmly of his evolving friendship with John McCain and the senator's values.


BARACK OBAMA: John cared about the institutions of self-government - our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, rule of law, separation of powers, even the arcane rules and procedures of the Senate. He knew that in a nation as big and boisterous and diverse as ours - those institutions, those rules, those norms are what bind us together.

SIMON: There a subtext here we ought to note, Ron?

ELVING: It's pretty hard to get away from it. There were explicit moments in the funeral in which people were clearly referring to Donald Trump, saying things like, America has always been great. But this, I think, is a somewhat more, if you will, cloaked reference to some of the politics of division that rule to a great degree in our Congress today. And to some degree, there is an implication here that Donald Trump is responsible in some way for the deterioration of our politics in ways that John McCain himself was quite explicit about denouncing.

SIMON: And let's listen to Meghan McCain, who's become a public figure in her own right - a speech that she gave on behalf of her father that was both personal but pointed in the way you suggest.


MEGHAN MCCAIN: The America of John McCain is generous and welcoming and bold. She is resourceful and confident and secure. She meets her responsibilities. She speaks quietly because she is strong. America does not boast because she has no need to. The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.


SIMON: So Ron, I guess take off the red MAGA hats, huh?

ELVING: Yes, I think that it's difficult when you have a president of the United States in office and has not been invited to the funeral and who is - this morning, been busy tweeting about NAFTA and other issues as though the funeral weren't going on. I think it's difficult to get around, if you will, the elephant in the room. His absence was felt almost as much as his presence might have been.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.