Political rivals but friends. They disagreed fundamentally on myriad issues. John McCain a Republican, Barack Obama a Democrat but at the core, the two men were more alike than dissimilar some say. In their hearts, as the two themselves said, they were cut from a similar cloth with love of, and devotion to, family and country first.
Respectful, dignified and often light-hearted with one another they nonetheless did clash. A cursory review of moments from the 2008 election remind of those battles. And while they vehemently agreed on much, they agreed to disagree and in the manner of Voltaire, defended the right of one another to hold their viewpoints.
They were friends and patriots.
McCain’s favorite book, ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls,’ tells perhaps even more about the man McCain is than who disillusioned fighter American Robert Jordan was in Ernest Hemingway’s classic.
“…it’s where I got the phrase ‘the world is a wonderful place and well worth fighting for …”
When McCain passed away Saturday afternoon after battling brain cancer, it was reported that McCain requested Obama eulogize him.
Obama’s statement on the passing of McCain reads in part that for all the ways they were disparate, they too were very much the same.
“…we shared, for all of our differences, a fidelity to something higher, the ideals for which a generation of Americans and immigrants … marched and sacrificed,” Obama said. “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. And for that we are all in his debt.”
On the day before his 2009 inauguration, in a raw-footage AP video with just a few thousands views, Pres.-elect Barack Obama spoke about McCain, his rival for the presidency.
“I could stand here and recite John’s long list of bi-partisan accomplishments,” Obama said, including the Patient’s Bill of Rights and campaign finance reform, to “risk the ire of his party for the good of his country,” Obama said. But said what was important to honor about McCain was his “rare & courageous public service” which was not motivated by a “quest for fame or vanity that has driven this man” nor was it politics, he said.
“It is rather a pure and deeply felt love for this country that comes form the painful knowledge of what life is like without it …”
Here’s what you need to know about John McCain and Barack Obama:
1. McCain & Obama Did Battle in 2008 in Their Fight For the White House & the Gloves Often Came Off. But in the End, They Treated Each Other With Dignity & Respect
In a town-hall debate in Nashville, Tennessee, the news of the day was another very bad day on Wall Street. They sparred over the economy and the way to fix it and debated fiercely on foreign policy.
As election day neared, the campaign rhetoric was cranked up notches but both men, outside of their respective campaign teams, publicly stated that each was grateful to the other for their decency and decorum.
“…he said we can disagree without being disagreeable. That’s true,” Obama said of McCain at a rally in Philadelphia. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, John McCain served his country with honor and he deserves our thanks for that.”
2. During a Campaign Rally, Days Before the 2008 Election, McCain Did Something Few Candidates Do; he Publicly Disagreed with Supporters & Defended His Rival
There were boos and grumbles but the man that would not be president, rose at the 11th hour in a contentious campaign to say his supporters were wrong about Obama.
When one supporter said he was afraid of Obama and said he was a cohort of terrorists, McCain shook his head.
“I have to tell you he is a decent person and a person you do not have to be scared as president of the United States.” Boos and guffaws from the crowd. “No, now look, now look …” he tried to correct and calm the crowd.
The next supporter to speak in the town-hall style campaign event said, “I do not trust Obama. I have read about him. He’s an Arab.” Again McCain shook his head. “No. No ma’am. No,” he said while she was till holding the microphone. “No? No,” she asked. McCain took the mic.
“No ma’am. He’s a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign is about.”
Two weeks after the election, in raw video from CBS News, McCain and then-Pres-elect Obama met in Chicago. They talked football.
When asked what the two former rivals would talk about, Obama said, “We’re going to have a good conversation about how we can work together…” And then said he wanted to “offer thanks to Sen. McCain for (his) outstanding service” to the nation.
3. When John McCain Conceded the Election in 2008 to Barack Obama, His Concession Speech Was Described as ‘Respectful’ & ‘Courageous’
Obama White House photographer Pete Souza has captured the presidency as likely no other has with his years of being a quiet but omnipresent eye witness. On Instagram Souza can be counted on to subtly (or not so subtly) troll the current president, but he also takes the occasion to share images that are timely and often, relevatory.
In the above photo, he says, “John McCain had lost the Presidency to Barack Obama. Yet on the eve of the inauguration—January 19, 2009–he greeted the President-elect with open arms before a bi-partisan dinner in Washington. Respect runs both ways.”
On the night of the election in 2008, McCain gave a concession speech that was noted for its humility. And, his respect for the winner of the race, his new president.
“Tonight more than any night I hold in my heart nothing but love for this country and for all of its citizens whether they supported me or Sen. Obama. I wish godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president. And I call on all Americans, as I have throughout this campaign to not despair of our present but to believe always in the promise and greatness of America.”
4. Obama & McCain Fundamentally Disagreed Politically on a Lot, But They were Close Friends & That Friendship Extended to Family
McCain was often critical of Obama policy. But in 2009 said he was confident in the then the-president’s decision-making process as it related to Afghanistan. When asked by a reporter about his talks with Obama, McCain was quick to say he’d spoken to the President “yesterday.”
“We had a good conversation, as we always do” McCain said.
In a perhaps not often seen or mentioned moment in May of 2009, then having been president for just four short months, Obama spoke at the Naval Academy commencement. In this clip, his embrace of McCain’s son may have been testimony to the closeness of the families.
John McCain IV graduated from the Naval Academy and walked across the stage to shake hands with the man who beat his father to claim the White House. Not a stiff formal handshake rather a warm handshake and embrace with smiles and banter.
5. McCain & Obama Had Their Light Moments Where Each, Respectfully & Hilariously, Roasted the Other
At the 2008 Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in Manhattan, Smith, former New York governor founded a Catholic fundraising organization to help support New York City kids living in poverty, both men were at attendance and spoke. The white-tie event was held less than three weeks before the 2008 presidential election.
Let’s go to McCain first.
“Even in this room full of proud Manhattan Democrats I can’t shake that feeling that some people here are pulling for me.”
Scattered applause and a pause, then, the punchline:
“I’m delighted to see you here tonight, Hillary.” Pan to Sec. Hillay Rodham Clinton roaring with laughter.
At the same dinner, Obama cracked several jokes at his McCain’s — and his own — expense, and the two men laughed out loud and were at once warm and wily.
In 2015, at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, Obama, commenting on the lapses and missteps of the Secret Service at the time, used a meme and joke that included John McCain.
On cable news the next day, McCain reacted.
“I’m reporting for duty Monday morning in my usual laid back casual style, my diplomatic style …I’ll get that Secret Service squared away. I’m ready for them.”