It was a scene that, sadly, is exceedingly rare in the politics of the Trump era.
On Monday night in Philadelphia’s historic Independence Hall, John McCain and Joe Biden, fiercely partisan adversaries who hoped to be president, showed off a friendship that transcends politics and recalled a time when Democrats and Republicans in Washington could put country over party to actually get things done.
The occasion was the annual presentation of the National Constitution Center’s Liberty Medal, won this year by McCain, the Republican senator from Arizona, and presented to him by Biden, the Democrat and former vice president from Delaware.
McCain’s acceptance speech for the medal is getting a lot of media attention today; he delivered a blunt assessment of the “half-baked, spurious nationalism” pushed by Trump and Steve Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist. While he mentioned neither of those men by name, his message was clear enough to draw a rebuke from Trump: “At some point I fight back and it won't be pretty,” the president declared Tuesday.
McCain’s warning was certainly newsworthy and the exchange with Trump makes for a good sound bite. But watching the videotape of the Liberty Medal event, as you can just below, what struck me was the mutual respect and affection displayed by Biden and McCain – despite their political differences.
The pair are united today in sadness. Two years ago, Biden lost his son, Beau, to brain cancer and in grief put aside his lifelong ambition to pursue the presidency. McCain, defeated by the Obama-Biden ticket in his 2008 bid for the White House, now battles the same cancer that killed Biden’s son.
Introducing McCain, Biden hailed the Republican’s “courage and loyalty,” displayed both as a naval officer imprisoned in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam war and later in the Senate. "John, you have broken many times, physically and otherwise, and you have always grown stronger, but what you don't really understand in my humble opinion is how much courage you give the rest of us looking at you," Biden said.
The son of a senior admiral, McCain was beaten through years in captivity, then offered his freedom by the North Vietnamese; he elected to stay in prison and endure more torture rather than leave behind his comrades.
“Duty always dictated what to do,” Biden observed.
For his part, McCain recalled how he and Biden “served in the Senate together for over 20 years, during some eventful times, as we passed from young men to the fossils who appear before you this evening.
“We didn’t always agree on the issues. We often argued -- sometimes passionately. But we believed in each other’s patriotism and the sincerity of each other’s convictions. We believed in the institution we were privileged to serve in. We believed in our mutual responsibility to help make the place work and to cooperate in finding solutions to our country’s problems. We believed in our country and in our country’s indispensability to international peace and stability and to the progress of humanity.”
Neither McCain nor Biden has been a perfect public servant, because of course there are no perfect servants; through the years, Common Cause found occasions to work with, and in opposition to, each of them. But whatever differences they’ve had, or we and others have had with them, it’s clear to me that the nation would be far better off if the administration, Congress, and our state and local governments had more people like them.
Office: Common Cause National
Tags: Executive Ethics