The echoes didn’t quite come through if you watched on TV. In Washington National Cathedral on Saturday, every word spoken in memory of John McCain rang for a second or more from nave to narthex, every word of the hymns sung and skirl of the bagpipes played reverberated from choir to crossing. You might have missed the way Meghan McCain stepped back as if she’d been punched in the gut between some passages of her fiery tribute to her father, calling out the “cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly.”
Yes, that was a shot at President Trump, who wasn’t invited but who loomed. He was there when Joe Lieberman said his friend McCain “always reassured our allies and unsettled our enemies.” He was there when Barack Obama said ” So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty.” He was there when George W. Bush said McCain “could not abide bigots and swaggering despots.” And yes, his daughter Ivanka Trump was there with her husband, Jared Kushner, absorbing the words of one speaker after another who made it clear how unwelcome the current president was in this version of Washington.
Almost everyone else who’s had an effect on US politics in the past decades was there instead. Bill and Hillary Clinton, Mitch McConnell and Elaine Chao, Dick Cheney, Nancy Pelosi, and Bob Dole were among many, many recognizable faces in the pews. It was one of those Washington events where proper celebrities seemed especially out of place–why was Jay Leno sitting with John Kerry? Is Rudy Giuliani hugging Wladimir Klitschko?
In the end, though, the funeral was less about boldfaced names or our broken politics than it was about McCain’s family, from their entrance behind his flag draped casket to Cindy McCain’s tear-streaked face when Renée Fleming sang “Danny Boy.” And outside, after they left the building, attendees hugged and chatted, many in odd-couple pairings. It was one last echo of John McCain’s Washington.