Obama admitted to feeling surprised when McCain called him earlier this year with the request — but, after he thought about it, it made perfect sense.
“It showed his irreverence, his sense of humor, a little bit of a mischievous streak,” Obama said. “After all, what better way to get a last laugh than to make George and I say nice things about him to a national audience?”
This line drew a laugh from the guests, including Cindy McCain, Michelle Obama, and Bush.
Indeed, both Obama and Bush often found themselves in intense rivalries with McCain over the course of their careers, most notably during presidential elections. Obama defeated McCain in the 2008 presidential election, and Bush ran against McCain during the 2000 Republican primaries, where McCain’s reputation as a “maverick” often put him at odds with the rest of the Republican party.
“He was willing to buck his own party at times, occasionally work across the aisle on campaign-finance reform and immigration reform,” Obama said, “That's why he championed a free and independent press as vital to our democratic debate. And the fact that it earned him some good coverage didn't hurt either.”
And that, Obama said, is what made McCain so vital to the Senate, despite the fact that he was often on the “receiving end” of some of McCain’s rogue votes.
In fact, neither Obama nor Bush held back on bringing up of their not-so-fond memories of the late senator in their speeches.
Obama recalled how McCain wasn’t shy about letting him know when he thought he was “screwing up — which, by his calculation, was about once a day.”
Bush spoke candidly about how he and McCain would “frustrate” one another, likely referring to the many times McCain actively worked against his policies in Congress, such as tax cuts and an energy bill, according to Time.
“But he also made me better,” he conceded.
Bush said McCain “detested” the abuse of power.
“He could not abide bigots and swaggering despots,” Bush said. “There was something deep inside him that made him stand up for the little guy, to speak for forgotten people in forgotten places.”
Obama spoke about how McCain stood for certain American principles that many would argue are losing their power amid the emerging policies of the current administration.
“Part of what makes our country great is that our membership is based not on our bloodline, not on what we look like, what our last names are,” Obama said. “It’s not based on where our parents or grandparents came from, or how recently they arrived, but on adherence to a common creed: that all of us are created equal, endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.”
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