Senator John McCain knew he was dying well in advance of his passing this weekend. That gave him plenty of time to plan his own funeral services and ensure that all of the details would send the exact message about his life and values that he wanted to enshrine in his legacy.
Some of his choices, like his picks of former Presidents (and political rivals) G. W. Bush and Barack Obama as his eulogists, reflect McCain’s commitment to at least attempt to govern the nation through bipartisan dialogue.
The selection of politicians such as former Vice President Joe Biden, former Democratic Senators Russ Feingold and Gary Hart, and current Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, along with Republicans like former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg fit this mold and serve as a reminder of his long history as a congressional luminary.
Another of his chosen pallbearers, former Defense Secretary William Cohen, represents McCain’s career as a naval aviator and POW. Then there are the friends from outside the word of politics, like actor Warren Beatty and FedEx founder Fred Smith, among others.
It is McCain’s choice of Russian dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza to help carry his coffin that is causing the most controversy now, being seen as a direct message from beyond the grave to both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.
Kara-Murza is the Vice Chairman of Open Russia and Chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, an organization established in honor of the dissident political leader who was assassinated in 2015 for his anti-corruption investigations into Putin, according to Kremlin critics.
McCain worked closely with the Russian dissident after Nemtsov’s killing to highlight Putin’s autocratic tactics, suppression of political opposition, and repression of freedom of expression. The late Senator once introduced Kara-Murza by saying:
“Vladimir is a brave, outspoken, and relentless advocate for freedom and democracy in Russia. And [as] has happened to other Putin critics, Vladimir was poisoned in order to intimidate him or worse,” McCain said, after introducing Kara-Murza as “a personal hero whose courage, selflessness and idealism I find awe-inspiring,” according to Politico.
McCain’s decision to include the fiercely anti-Putin dissident in his funeral entourage surely stems from his anger at President Trump’s apologia for Putin’s behavior as when he responded to a reporter’s question about human rights abuses in Russia by saying “What, you think our country’s so innocent?”
That comment so enraged McCain that he said in a speech from the Senate floor that there was no moral equivalence between the United States and Putin’s Russia. I repeat, there is no moral equivalence between that butcher and thug and KGB colonel and the United States of America, the country that Ronald Reagan used to call a shining city on a hill.”
Kara-Murza was also instrumental in helping McCain get Congress to pass a number of sanctions bills against Russia, including the infamous Magnitsky Act that targeted Russian oligarchs and froze their access to American-based assets.
It was a repeal of the Magnitsky Act that a Russian lawyer was trying to urge the Trump campaign to support when her delegation met with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner in the notorious Trump Tower meeting before there 2016 election.
McCain’s inclusion of Kara-Murza to participate in his last rites is sending a clear middle finger from beyond the grave to two of McCain’s biggest adversaries in life. And the most Trump — who was pointedly not invited to the funeral — can do is act petulant and refuse to lower the flag in McCain’s honor, something he was forced to relent on after public outcry. All in all, it was a well-played final move by the late Senator. One can only imagine him chuckling in his grave as Trump and Putin fume.
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