Gonzales spoke to more than 300 guests at the Thursday, Sept. 27, Executive Leadership Series (ELS) luncheon. Held each month, ELS brings together businessmen and women in Hampton Roads to hear from business and leadership experts. Gonzales also spoke to more than 150 Regent University students from the School of Law, Robertson School of Government and College of Arts & Sciences before the luncheon.
"Everyone in this room has a dream," Gonzalez began, explaining that one of the best ways Americans can exercise their pursuit of the American dream is by voting. "We all work and strive to realize that dream," he said, adding that at a time in which the world can change on a dime, the next president will have unique influence over whose dreams come true and whose don't.
"The person we choose to work in the Oval Office will have to work with Congress on a number of substantial issues," he said. Those issues include the domestic and global economy, the Arab Spring, terrorism, Iran's nuclear capabilities, military funding and strategy, and immigration reform, just to name a few. "Our country cannot find answers to these questions without leadership," he said.
Gonzales outlined the kind of leadership a president of the United States must have.
"A great president is a great leader. Our president must have the courage to be lonely, to make decisions for our country that may be controversial," he said. Listing choices made by former presidents that were controversial, Gonzales placed Bush's decisions surrounding 9/11 next to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and Truman's atomic bombs over Japan.
Great leaders cannot be indecisive or inconsistent, Gonzales continued. "Don't judge a leader by what he says, but by what he does."
Great leaders, he added, are also wise. "No one is born with wisdom; wisdom is earned," he said. "A great president must also be moral."
The office of the president carries ultimate responsibility for the nation, Gonzalez added. "There's a sense of awe when people visit the West Wing, and it's because the leader of the free world is there making history every day."
Gonzales had the rare opportunity to be in the room with Bush on 9/11, noting the determination of the president as he made decisions to direct the nation.
"Today, as our government weighs the recent attacks by Islamist extremists on the American embassy in Libya, resulting in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, our president has developed a better understanding of [Bush's] terrorism policy," Gonzales said.
Gonzales then outlined several similarities between the Bush and Obama administrations, pointing out that many measures implemented during the Bush administration continue under Obama, particularly in the areas of war and the exercise of executive power.
"It's much easier to criticize on the campaign trail, but when you put your hand on the Bible and vow to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, your perspective changes," he said.
Gonzales, whose mother and father were poor migrant workers in southern Texas, left the crowd with his own story of the American dream, encouraging them that it's still possible to achieve. "America is still a beacon of hope in the world," Gonzales said. "It's still worth fighting for."
"My mother never dreamed that I'd take her from the cotton fields to the Oval Office," he concluded. "I still believe anything is possible in this country."
Gonzales served as Attorney General of the United States from 2005-2007, becoming the highest-ranking Hispanic in executive government to date. Gonzales also served as White House Counsel from 2001-2005. Prior to his service in Washington he served as General Counsel to the Governor of Texas, Texas Secretary of State and Justice on the Supreme Court of Texas.
Presently, Gonzales is counsel at the Nashville, Tenn., law firm of Waller Lansden, and is the Doyle Rogers Distinguished Chair of Law at Belmont Law School in Nashville.
By Amanda Morad