Since Senator John McCain’s death on Aug. 25, he has been remembered for many reasons, but for former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, it was Sen. McCain’s unwavering values that set him apart.
“One meeting I remember in particular. It was with other senators, and he dressed them down. There was something that upset him, and he went after them,” said Gonzales, the dean of Belmont’s College of Law. “And I was taken aback that he would do that in front of me. But he did, and that may have been the first time I ever had any dealings with him.”
Gonzales saw this interaction as a sign of McCain’s conviction to uphold his values.
“What I liked about him best was he always knew where he stood,” Gonzales said. “He was consistent, which, to me, tells me that you really are serious about your values.”
This integrity affected McCain’s political actions, allowing him to avoid compromising on issues that mattered most to him.
One of the standout moments for Gonzales that showed McCain’s character came when he appeared in Congress to vote against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, he said.
McCain returned to the Senate for the first time since being diagnosed with brain cancer to vote on this repeal shortly after brain surgery.
“I know it upset the president, but he did it as a matter of principle. And some may say, ‘well, you know, he was probably not going to run anyway,’ or ‘he’s dying anyway, so he had nothing to lose — nothing at stake,’” Gonzales said. “I think he would’ve cast that same vote 10 years ago. I really do. He just thought it was wrong. He would’ve done it even if he voted no against the president — even one of his party.”
Another area McCain remained devoted to was his work to better the lives of veterans, Gonzales said.
“As a veteran myself, I take great pride and gratitude in McCain’s work in helping to promote and serve our military, our veterans and their respective families,” said Gonzales. “That’s why I really admire him. He never forgot what that was like, and I think he worked tirelessly to take care of the military and their families.”
But the thing that really set McCain apart was that, for him, it wasn’t always about winning. McCain’s top priority was to hold on to the values and traditions of the American people, Gonzales said.
“There are a certain set of principles that I think we all believe in, at least we used to believe in, a certain set of values and standards that made America America that we expected of our leaders. And I think John continued to believe in that until the bitter end,” Gonzales said. “I’m not sure it matters anymore when I look at the politics of today. I worry that certainly it’s not as important. For me, it’s important.”
If there’s one thing students can learn from McCain’s legacy, it’s the importance of conviction, Gonzales said.
“Look back at the way he carried himself and the way that he stood up for himself and stood up for certain things irrespective of the consequences,” Gonzales said. “I think it’s so important, and I like to think that the students here realize that it’s not all about winning. It’s not about winning at all costs.”
Looking back at McCain’s life, Gonzales had just one final thought.
“He was a good man.”