Rudy Giuliani wrote in his 2002 best seller Leadership that “Weddings (are) discretionary, funerals (are) mandatory.” The news that Senator John McCain apparently will not invite President Trump to his funeral is disturbing for a man who wishes to hold the deepest ideals of our country. One of those ideals is forgiveness and that ideal was exemplified by the late Senator, and former Vice President of the United States, Hubert Humphrey.
While forgotten by many, there was a time when Hubert Humphrey was a very big deal. In 1948, as the Mayor of Minneapolis, Hubert Humphrey gave a brave and rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention in favor civil rights. He was elected to the U.S. Senate and in 1960 was the main opponent of a young Senator named John F. Kennedy during the Democratic Party primaries. He was the floor leader for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and that year was named as running mate to President Lyndon Johnson. Humphrey became Vice President of the United States in 1965 and came very close to winning the Presidency against Richard Nixon in 1968. After his defeat and leaving Washington in 1969, Humphrey became one of the few Vice Presidents to again serve in the U.S. Senate where he remained from 197 to his death in 1978.
For better or for worse, Hubert Humphrey left a large political legacy. He also left a human legacy. A couple of stories regarding the end of his life illustrate that.
The first story was told to me on graduation night of a program that sadly no longer exists, a Presidential Classroom for Young Americans. The leader of the program told us graduates how, when he was a high school student attending the same program, the person giving the keynote speech on his graduation night was the former Vice President of the United States and then Senator from Minnesota, Hubert Humphrey. At this time Senator Humphrey apparently knew he was terminally ill with cancer though the public did not. Hubert Humphrey made his speech and instead of leaving the banquet after his remarks, as most politicians would, he remained seated all night on the platform and watching the kids of both political parties dance the night away. He probably reflecting on his own life watching the young people dance and their lives ahead of them. This reflection would be seen in an even more profound way thereafter.
The second story began on Christmas Eve 1977, when Hubert Humphrey called Richard Nixon. Nixon was still depressed over the Watergate affair and his condition startled the dying Humphrey. After talking it over with his family Humphrey again called Nixon and asked his old rival if he would come to Humphrey’s funeral. Nixon came a few weeks later in January 1978.
Nixon’s attendance at Humphrey’s funeral was his first trip to official Washington since he resigned from the Presidency. Despite the sadness of the occasion, Humphrey’s gesture boosted Nixon’s spirits enough that when Nixon was invited to the White House a few weeks later for a dinner with Red China’s leadership, he felt much less awkward.
It really makes no sense. Senator McCain was able to, in essence, forgive his captors during his pivotal role in the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Viet Nam in the 1990’s but he will not invite the President of the United States to his funeral?
Hubert Humphrey had every reason to shun Richard Nixon, who barely beat Humphrey in the popular vote for the Presidency in 1968. After Watergate and Nixon’s resignation Humphrey would have had even more reason to be bitter, believing he could have been President. But Hubert Humphrey was a bigger man than to give into bitterness. He thought of the country.
Senator McCain can spend his final days in bitterness or he can follow the example of Senator Hubert Humphrey and give Americans, a larger world, and most of all himself an example of deep and abiding forgiveness.
*Views expressed in the article are those of the author