Having attended at least 25 big-named Washington funerals, I can attest that it is a bit of an ordeal. Last Saturday, my wife Harriet and I got up at 6 a.m. to climb the U.S. Senate steps at 7:30 a.m. to get on a bus which departed to the National Cathedral for Sen. John McCain's more than three-hour long funeral. We were then escorted to "sit with the Senate" in a special section near the front. If a senator arrives late, or missed the shuttle bus, he might find himself scrambling for a seat.
Of course John McCain's record as a prisoner of war and his life story exceeded the fact that he was a six-term senator, presidential candidate and so forth. His funeral was well done, but it was spoiled by the critical Trump references in the speeches.
I knew John McCain well, having been his seatmate for 16 years on the Senate Commerce Committee, of which both he and I ultimately became chairman. Also, I traveled abroad on six congressional delegations with John. John really didn't pay much attention to the details of the Senate Commerce Committee issues as his main focus was military policy on his other committee, the Armed Services Committee.
When I was chairman of the Commerce Committee, I found my friend John McCain to be a difficult man to work with. He was not interested in being a domestic legislator — he was a gadfly and a maverick. For example, the Senate Commerce Committee worked for more than four years on the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which was a "must-pass piece of legislation" so we could get the internet. I was the principle author and gave up most of my life to working on it for four years.
Sen. McCain did not attend many of the long hearings and meetings, but we thought he was on board to vote for final passage; at least we didn't hear any objections from him. When the legislation finally passed the Senate, there were only three votes against it, of which John McCain was surprisingly one.
That afternoon, McCain called a press conference to state that he had voted against the bill because there was too much lobbying and special-interest money spent on the bill. Press reporting on it made McCain, who had taken all the same PAC money and special-interest money, sound like a crusading choir boy. All of us wish our system did not require so much money; I am one of the group of reformers who have tried to limit it. John found success in talking directly to the press and the public through making speeches, and found it very effective. I view myself (probably also self-righteously) more of a plodding legislator. However, he certainly got the headlines.
McCain was an unapologetic pro-war, pro-military man. He supported every invasion and called for surges after invasions had started; he would support every new weapons system, particularly every new naval carrier. He enthusiastically supported projecting American power by the deployment of troops abroad. I, myself, also a Vietnam veteran, frequently took the opposite position.
My point is that McCain and I were frequently not on the same page in terms of policy. In fact, I thought McCain did not like me very well as he was often crusty around me. But he turned up to my retirement event, took the microphone and said such wonderful things about me that it made my wife cry — maybe in surprise!
It is not nice to say it, but John McCain was probably petty in requesting that Trump not attend his funeral. President Trump subsequently was equally petty in not attending it. Some of the speeches, although not mentioning Trump, drew unprecedented applause from inside the cathedral for punches at Trump. I thought it was out of place because it cheapened the service.
Throughout history, and while reading Shakespeare, one realizes that funerals have frequently been used to express political views. Julius Caesar's funeral was purely political, aimed at the establishment and trying to affect the next chapter of Roman history. Unfortunately, McCain's funeral (especially his daughter Meghan's speech) turned the service into an anti-Trump forum.
Marc Antony said at Julius Caesar's funeral:
"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. …"
We buried John McCain and we praised him, and we should have left it at that. It would have been a far grander bonding funeral if any references to President Trump were dropped. The event could have been a completely unifying national event — it in fact added to the divisions.