Transcribe your podcast

Right, right, right. All right. Right, I. Fittingly, he died a hero's death. When John Sidney McCain, the third naval aviator, prisoner of war giant of the Senate and former Republican presidential nominee, at last succumbed to a brain tumor in August.


Twenty eighteen, he was hailed as an American original, the man who defeated him for the presidency in 2008.


Barack Obama was eloquent and admiring, saying few of us have been tested the way John once was or required to show the kind of courage that he did.


But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John's best, he showed us what that means. The most notable eulogy for the legendary senator, however, would come not from a president, but from a daughter, Meghan McCain, who spoke from the lectern of Washington National Cathedral to a nation led not by the kind of man her father had been, but by Donald Trump, the incumbent president who had repeatedly belittled Senator McCain's life and work in July 2015.


Trump had said this about McCain. He's not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured in March twenty nineteen, Trump said. I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be. Trump also attacked the senator for voting to sustain health care coverage for Americans and wrongly tweeted that McCain had been last in his class at Annapolis. None of this was lost on the late senator's daughter, who understood the importance of the values her father stood for and who was not afraid to say so.


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. I'm Jon Meacham, and this is it was sad episode for Meghan McCain and her father's America. He was an admirable man in every way you'd want someone to be.


Donald Trump has none of those things. He's their opposite. He told me to give them hell. And I thought it was such a weird request because you think of eulogies as sad and stoic and he really wanted fire. We all fall short of the mark and we all sin. And he felt that by doing justice to others, you know, it was the way towards redemption. And I think that's what made him a great moral figure in politics.


So my dad had obviously, when he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the median survival rate is around a year. So he sort of started preparing for the end of his life and always and he was very, very stoic about it.


This is Meghan McCain. And he had said he wanted to plan his own funeral.


And I was very resistant to talk about it because I was trying to be as positive as possible and optimistic as possible, because there are people that get glioblastoma and last a very long time and live with it. Well, and then there are other people that don't at all. And I remember probably like three or four months after he was diagnosed, he sat me down when we were in Sedona and just said, I want you to give my eulogy and I want you to do at the National Cathedral and you need to stop avoiding this.


And I cried and I think I called him like a jackass. Like I was very angry about all of it because I just confronting that. And the idea of that was just really overwhelming. And I mean, who wants to give a eulogy for the person you love most in the world?


The immediate audience for McCain's eulogy was the congregation on hand in the cathedral, which included three former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and those millions watching on television. A larger audience, though, was history itself. History not as retrospective exercise, but history as a living thing. The collection of hopes and fears and aspirations and dispositions of heart and mind that make up the body politic at any given moment.


And in this given moment from the National Cathedral, Meghan McCain was calling on a country and a party in the grip of Trump ism to break free of malevolence and embrace the McCain way. A way of service and of sacrifice, a nobler way, not a narcissistic one. John Sydney, McCain, the third was many things, he was a sailor, he was an aviator, he was a husband, he was a warrior, he was a prisoner. He was a hero.


He was a congressman. He was a senator. He was a nominee for president of the United States. These are all the titles and the roles of a life that has been well lived. They are not the greatest of his titles nor the most important of his roles. He was a great man. 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, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who live lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served.


He knew to a degree what I was going to say and what I was going to do, but he told me to give them hell and I thought it was such a weird sort of suggestion and request, because you think of eulogies as being sad and stoic and I think sort of like beautiful and maudlin. And he really wanted fire.


I was confused at the time. But then in the days after he died and then the process of it, I really understood what he meant. I was just horrifically in grief and so sad and really just barely functioning on a physical and emotional level right after he died. And then I was very, very angry because I felt like it was becoming politicized. And then there were controversies with President Trump in the White House lowering the American flag and raising the American flag.


And my grief turned to anger White House lowering its flag to half staff in memory of John McCain, reversing a decision made earlier today that landed the president in hot water from the right and the left. It all comes after Donald Trump had seemed to double down on his own unique brand of smallness with multiple news.


A lot of people are asking because they love me and they ask me about a man named John McCain. And if you wanted to tell you about should I or not?


Yes. Yes. So I have to be honest, I've never liked him much. Hasn't been for me.


I've really probably never will.


I think Donald Trump is probably the most insecure man who has ever occupied the office of president.


This is the author, speechwriter and adviser to John McCain, Mark Salter.


John McCain was everything. Donald Trump is not. John was basically honest and well intentioned. He was selfless. He sacrificed for causes greater than himself. He believed in this country and its ideals. And he felt he had a moral, not just a political but a moral obligation to serve them. He was an admirable man in every way you'd want someone to be. Donald Trump has none of those things. He's their opposite. And I think he knows that deep down inside.


And he lashes out because he's childish and insecure and weak. I actually ended up making a few last minute changes beforehand because I rehearsed it a lot more than I've ever rehearsed anything in my entire life. And then there are a few lines I added in because instinctually I just thought he likes fire. And so I'm going to give him fire.


I was just sad and mad at the same time. And, you know, I think being told to give them hell is a very, very direct instruction. And there are people that loved it and thought that it was, you know, exactly what my dad would have wanted.


And then there were other people who thought that it was too political and too angry and that I was totally way off on what is appropriate, especially in the National Cathedral in front of that specific audience. And for whatever it's worth, I can remember looking out onto the audience of every famous politician you can imagine. And I saw Hillary Clinton in the front row and she was smiling.


And it's one of the few things that resonated with me because I thought this must be going OK, because she doesn't look upset. She was smiling at me. He was a great fire who burned bright.


In the past few days, my family and I have heard from so many of those Americans who stood in the warmth and light of this fire and found it illuminated, what is best about them? We are grateful to them because they are grateful to him. If you have resented that fire for that light is cast upon them for the truth it revealed about their character. But my father never cared what they thought.


And even that small number still have the opportunity as long as they draw breath to live up to the example of John McCain. My father was a great man. He was a great warrior. He was a great American. I admired him for all of these things, but I love him because he was a great father. The style and delivery of the eulogy was not simply what her father would have wanted, but was the essence of his instruction, passionate and direct, guided by an unflinching devotion to country and family.


It was an accurate reflection of a man who spent virtually his entire life engaged in America's battles, both military and political, someone Theodore Roosevelt, a hero of McCain's, might have described as a man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.


I'm excited to tell you about this new, important and powerful documentary podcast called Whirlwind, written and told by a two time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who's teamed up with the production team that created Slow Burn and Fiasco and presented by kadence 13.


In this new podcast series, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Tim Weiner tells the story of the long covert war between Russia and the United States over the course of 10 episodes. Weiner talks to CIA directors, KGB spies and international experts to learn about the political warfare of the past and connected to what's happening today. Let's face it, right now, Russia is at war with the United States and we're losing. This is the story of what's happened and what continues to happen with the top experts involved in partnership with kadence 13 jigsaw productions and a production of prologue projects.


Whirlwind is available now to download and subscribe for free on Apple podcasts, Spotify, radio, dotcom, and wherever you get your podcasts. Ironic and charming, John McCain was a cheerful political warrior with a tragic sensibility, he liked to quote John F. Kennedy's remark that life is unfair and few men knew that so well. Things fall apart. Planes are shot out of the sky, prisoners of war or tortured. To McCain, the world was dark and difficult, but could also be sunlit and redemptive.


A man who endured five years in a North Vietnamese prison understandably tended to see the vicissitudes of American politics in their proper perspective. Still, he was a politician driven by a mix of ambition and altruism. And though he was humbler than many other public figures, he did seem to hear the trumpets. During the 2008 campaign, McCain remarked, I don't want to be too melodramatic, but I think it's clear that I've had too many narrow escapes not to believe that there is some purpose for me.


But then he quickly added, In no way do I think I'm here because God wants me to be president.


You know, he had these interesting qualities that you would think would be opposed to each other. He was idealistic and cynical at the same time, very realistic about the world, saw it for what it was with all its cruelty, and was almost psychologically impossible for him to lose hope. And I think he was that way all his life.


He believed in doing justice and loving mercy and walking humbly with his God. And he thought the acts of justice on behalf of others, of people who are strangers to you, redeemed you from whatever your own failings were. We all fall short of the mark and we all sin. And he felt that by doing justice to others, it was a way towards redemption.


And I think that's what made him a great moral figure in politics.


It's something he taught me never to lose hope and never to lose hope in yourself. There's always another opportunity to do good in this world. That's the way he interpreted life. McCain long spoke of his affection for and identification with Robert Jordan, the protagonist of Ernest Hemingway's for whom the Bell tolls, the lingering image of the novel's final scene is not one of death, but of Jordan, the college professor who has come to Spain to fight the fascists wounded yet still alive, taking aim at the enemy, his heart still beating against the forest floor.


Hemingway does not kill Jordan, but leaves him there engaged to the end in the battles of his time. McCain saw himself in the same way as a warrior who never gave in and never gave up, no matter how hopeless the cause. McCain recalled, Oh, I reread it all the time. Robert Jordan is what I always thought a man ought to be. Jordan's essential creed is encapsulated in a sentence that gave McCain the title of one of the books he wrote.


The World is a fine place and Worth the fighting for, and I hate very much to leave it. It's not hard to see how the line would resonate with a romantic fatalist like McCain. When his daughter Meghan stood in the lectern of the cathedral, it was not her words, but Hemingway's words that began her father's eulogy. The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for, and I hate very much to leave it when Ernest Hemingway's Robert Jordan at the clothes for whom the bell tolls, lies wounded and waiting for his last fight.


These are among his final thoughts. My father had every reason to think the world was an awful place.


My father had every reason to think the world was not worth fighting for. My father had every reason to think the world was worth leaving.


He did not think any of those things. Like the hero of his favorite book, John McCain took the opposite view. You had to have a lot of luck to have had such a good life. In captivity, McCain used to act out scenes from books and movies to keep his mind sharp in addition to Hemingway. He loved The Great Gatsby, all quiet on the Western Front and James Fenimore Cooper's leather stocking tales, especially The Last of the Mohicans. He always remember the NC Wyeth illustrations.


He liked William Faulkner in what he called small doses, especially the bear and turnabout. McCain spoke of nonfiction less, but he did read twice Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Most interesting, though, was McCain's view that his father, a career naval officer who rose to be commander in chief of the Pacific forces during the Vietnam War, was rather like fichter Pug Henry, the hero of Hermann Wolk's The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. That's the hot potato we've been handed, Pug.


So let's get down to business. Suppose the British do hold out. Suppose Hitler doesn't invade. What then? Hold Hitler in 1940, pass them on air power and forty one should the Luftwaffe out of the skies and forty two and forty three bombed their factories and their cities to bits if they don't surrender, invade and conquer in 1944. Now you're talking. But can they. Hang on. Hang on. Yes, sir, I believe they can. Exactly, McCain said his father was exactly like Pug Henry in the last pages of the winds of war, Henry watches his son set sail from Pearl Harbor aboard the USS Enterprise.


He could almost picture God, the father looking down with sad wonder at this mischief. In a world so rich and lovely, could his children find nothing better to do than to dig iron from the ground and work it into vast, grotesque engines for blowing each other up? Yet this madness was the way of the world. McCain understood this in his bones, and yet he persevered through storm and strife. That was the McCain his daughter spoke of in Washington just as the first Americans looked upon a new world full of potential for a grand experiment in freedom and self-government so their descendants have a responsibility to defend the old world from its worst self.


The America of John McCain is the America of the revolution. Fighters with no stomach for the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot, making the world a new with the bells of liberty. The America of John McCain is the America of Abraham Lincoln, fulfilling the promise of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal in suffering greatly. To see it through the America of John McCain is the America of the boys who rushed the colors in every war across three centuries, knowing that in them is the life of the republic, and particularly those by their daring, as Ronald Reagan said, gave up their chance of being husbands and fathers and grandfathers and gave up their chance to be revered old men.


The America of John McCain is, yes, the America of Vietnam, fighting the fight, even in the most forlorn cause, even in the most grim circumstances, even in the most distant and hostile corner of the world, standing even defeat for the life and liberty of other peoples in other lands. That fervent faith, that proven devotion, that abiding love, that is what drove my father from the fiery skies above the Red River Delta to the brink of the presidency itself.


John McCain had proved in the 2008 presidential campaign what he proved in Vietnam, that patience is a virtue and when in doubt, principle is worth a try. In August 2007, I went to interview McCain in the presidential suite of the Doubletree Hotel in New York's Times Square, which sounds glamorous but was not. The cups in the room were plastic and there were no phalanx of aides. Only Mark Salter, the senator's longtime assistant and co-author, though it was sunny outside the room, felt gloomy and dark, and the conversation was serious.


McCain was promoting a new book, Hard Call, about difficult decisions, but much of the talk centered on his then listing campaign. He had staked his White House ambitions on President Bush's surge strategy in Iraq and not only on its success, but on the prospect that enough Americans would agree that progress was being made.


McCain had taken his stand on the principle that success in Iraq was essential, and that for him was that it's well known that I have supported the surge.


And it is at least very clear to most objective observers that the surge has succeeded where others predicted that it would fail. The fact is, al-Qaida is on the run. They are not defeated. They are not defeated. And we're going to have to continue training the Iraqi military. Back then, there was a lot of complaining in the press corps that the McCain of 2000, the iconoclast who told it straight, had become a more manufactured and thus less interesting McCain of 2008.


Ask about that. He said, I haven't changed and I feel the same way. I am the same guy. I'm not complaining about it. Don't get me wrong, this is what campaigns are for. But I have to do what I think is right. Win or lose, John McCain always did that. And he was comfortable with complexity. He refused to deploy race against Barack Obama, defending his Democratic opponent against a woman at a campaign event who said she thought Obama was an Arab.


I got to ask you a question.


I do not believe and I can't trust Obama. I have read about him. And he's not he's not. He's a he's an Arab. He is not. No, no.


No man. No man. He's a he's a decent family man. Citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. And that's what this campaign is all about.


He's not thank. And on election night 2008, when he had lost the great prize, McCain, as his daughter would do on the occasion of his death, spoke to history, putting himself and his own appetites to the side.


He recalled the controversy that had ensued when Theodore Roosevelt had invited Booker T.. Washington to dine at the White House and noted that now a black man would go to that fabled place as president of the United States.


I've always believed that America offers opportunities to all who have the industry and will to seize it. Senator Obama believes that, too. But we both recognize that though we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation's reputation and denied some Americans the full blessings of American citizenship, the memory of them still had the power to wound a century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt's invitation of Booker T.. Washington to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage in many quarters.


America today is a world away from the cruel and prideful bigotry of that time. There is no better evidence of this and the election of an African-American to the presidency of the United States. Let there be no reason now.


Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this the greatest nation on Earth.


McCain was the kind of man he was because of his father, who was grand and heroic, but also flawed in August of 2008, on the eve of his nomination for president. I interviewed Senator McCain on a flight from Orlando to Atlanta and asked him about his dad. Here's what he said. He was absent a lot. World War two Korean War when he was assigned duty. Even in peacetime, he was gone a great deal. My mother did a good job of keeping him alive for us.


Your father this your father, that she was very good at reminding us of him and his example. And of course, when he was home, not only did I get to know him, but his fellow naval officers. My mom, who really idolized my dad, had the effect on us of kind of idolizing him. Yet at the same time, I became aware, I think, when I was either in my very earliest teens or even before that, that my father had a struggle with alcohol.


And I watched him fight and fight this sickness. So I not only idolized him, but I also understood he had flaws like all of us. And probably his greatest was his struggle against alcoholism, which made him a very religious man.


He prayed every night on his knees.


He was very religious because he saw hell when he was combating alcoholism, a struggle that he knew he could not successfully win by himself. I think it may have attenuated both my appreciation for his strengths and my distress at his illness. His own daughter saw her own father whole as well. Imagine the warrior the night of the skies, gently carrying his little girl to bed, imagine the dashing aviator who took his aircraft hurtling off pitching decks in the South China seas, kissing the hurt when I fell and skinned my knee.


Imagine the distinguished statesman who counseled presidents and the powerful singing with his little girl in Oak Creek during a rainstorm to singing in the rain. Imagine the senator. The fierce conscience of the nation's best self, taking his 14 year old daughter out of school because he believed that I would learn more about America at the town halls he held across the country. Imagine the elderly veteran of war in government whose wisdom and courage were sought by the most distinguished men of our time, with his eyes shining with happiness as he gave his blessing for his grown daughters marriage.


You all have to imagine that I don't have to because I lived it all. I know who he was. I know what defined him. I got to see it every single day of my blessed life. Dad, I know you are not perfect. We live in an era where we knock down old American heroes for all their imperfections. When no leader wants to admit to falter failure. You were an exception and you gave us an ideal to strive for.


Look. I know you can see this gathering here in this cathedral. The nation is here to remember you like so many other heroes, you leave us draped in the flag you loved you defended it, you sacrificed it. You've always honored it. It is good to remember we are Americans. We don't put our heroes on pedestals just to remember them. We raise them up because we want to emulate their virtues. This is how we honor them and this is how we will honor you.


If you watch his speech, the last one that he gave on the Senate floor, it was a real plea for bipartisanship and for a coming together of America. And it's been very hard emotionally for Americans because we have a president who is so erratic and chaotic and puts his needs above the needs of the American public. And I think my dad would just have been doing what he was doing, which is speaking out against hypocrisy and any sort of perceived criminal or unethical behavior.


People really trusted him in a way that I haven't seen them trust any other modern politicians, at least at this very moment. And that makes me very sad because even people that didn't like him or weren't Republicans or weren't conservative had this feeling that they knew that he was honest and going with his gut and his instinct, even if he didn't like it. They think we're all sort of like at the end of this horrible summer, just like horrible, you know, chaotic summer.


And I've never missed him more. I mean, I miss him. There's two elements to it because I miss him personally on an emotional level, because you just miss your parents when they're gone. And then I miss him on a political level because there's just nobody who seems to have any backbone. There's just still such a void missing. And I had high hopes that there would be people that would take up the mantle in his place. And they have deeply disappointed me.


In a way, Meghan McCain was eulogizing not only a man, but a moment, an American moment, yet she knew and he knew that there is always light in the gloom, always hope in the twilight.


My father is gone. My father is gone. My sorrow is immense, but I know his life and I know it was great because it was good. And as much as I hate to see him go, I do know how it ended. I know that on the afternoon of August 25th in front of Oak Creek in Cornhill, Arizona, surrounded by the family he loved so much. An old man shook off the scars of battle one last time and a rose, a new man to pilot one last flight up and up and up, busting clouds left and right, straight on through to the kingdom of heaven.


And he slipped the earthly bombs, put out his hand and touched the face of God. On the next episode of it was said, Ronald Reagan brings his long American odyssey to a close in his presidential farewell address, an evocation of America as a shining city on a hill, a nation that builds not walls, but bridges. Thank you for listening to it was said. A creation and production of C 13 originals, a division of Caden's 13 in association with history executive produced by me, Jon Meacham and Chris Corcoran, directed by Lloyd Lockridge, edited, produced, engineered and mastered by Chris Bazil with production support and research by Bill Schulz and John McDermott and research assistants by Ian Mott.


Creative consultation by Eli Lehrer and Jesse Katz, graphic design, marketing and publicity by Josephine and Frances Kirk, Courtney and Hilary show our theme song is I Can Almost See You by Hammack. In our closing credits, song is Light by Michael Kiwanuka. I want to tell you about another history podcast that explores how moments in history continue to shape our world today. History This Week is a podcast that explores events big and small, that change the course of history.


And one episode, you'll find out how a flood of molasses changed public policy forever. In another, you'll hear profound stories of the human spirit from Holocaust survivors themselves. History this week comes out every Monday. Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.