Also posted on Medium.
It is easy to honor the dead. We can pick moments from long and complicated lives of others to paint a complete picture of what we hope our lives will be remembered for having been. A eulogy is, of course, about the person being eulogized. It is also about the moment in which the eulogy is delivered, our own hopes and fears, and the case we want to make about what should come next. Our reflections on the dead are at least as much about ourselves and our time as they are about those on whose behalf we are reflecting.
This weekend’s words for Senator McCain are about the man. They are also about our moment and ourselves. Consider how this weekend’s public expressions would be different if he and Palin had won in 2008, or had he died half way through the first term of President Hillary Clinton or President Marco Rubio.
Lives are never just one thing. No one of us is the best or worst thing we have ever done. But headlines are short and history’s limited attention span demands a slogan. The headline and slogan become aspirations toward which the rest of us should aspire, flawed and complicated and headline and slogan-free as we may be. Kennedy was promise cut short. Lincoln was martyred to save the Union and King was martyred bending the moral arc of our nation. And so it shall be with Senator John McCain, an honorable maverick in a time of dishonor and blind political loyalty. An incomplete slogan that does disservice to a complicated man who made raw political calculations in a life devoted to public service. But it may be the slogan our moment demands. Maybe the headlines marking McCain’s death and history’s slogan of his life are the ethical foundation and political aspiration we need right now.