Former President George W. Bush memorialized Arizona Sen. John McCain on Saturday as an honorable friend and leader who was honest, courageous and not afraid to speak out against “bigots and swaggering despots.”
“John was above all a man with a code. He lived by a set of public virtues that brought strength and purpose to his life and to his country,” the 43rd president said during a memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington.
“He was courageous, with a courage that frightened his captors and inspired his countrymen. He was honest, no matter who it offended ― presidents were not spared,” he said, drawing laughs.
“Back in the day, he could frustrate me, and I know he’d say the same thing about me,” he said, appearing to draw a laugh from McCain’s wife, Cindy McCain. “But he also made me better.”
Former President Barack Obama echoed a similar sentiment during his own eulogy at the service, stating that McCain “made us better presidents — just as he made the Senate better. Just as he made the country better.”
Bush, who successfully ran against McCain for the White House in 2000, emphasized that it was the Vietnam veteran’s loyalty to his country and respect to his fellow human being, whether it’s friend or foe, that made him so great.
“He was honorable. Always recognizing that his opponents were still patriots and human beings. He loved freedom with a passion of a man who knew its absence. He respected the dignity inherent in every life, a dignity that does not stop at borders and cannot be erased by dictators,” he said. “Perhaps above all, John detested the abuse of power. He could not abide bigots and swaggering despots; there was something deep inside of him that made him stand up for the little guy, to speak for forgotten people, in forgotten places.”
Bush concluded his speech by stating that though the senator “has moved on,” his legacy will continue.
“He would probably not want us to dwell on it, but we are better for his presence among us. The world is smaller for his departure, and we will remember him as he was: unwavering, undimmed, unequal.”