The death of a good man and a leader

Column by Michael Alcorn
Posted 12/26/18

Back in January, 1991, I was a college senior, getting ready to graduate. For people who want to become teachers, that last semester is a beautiful time known as “student teaching.” Student …

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The death of a good man and a leader


Back in January, 1991, I was a college senior, getting ready to graduate. For people who want to become teachers, that last semester is a beautiful time known as “student teaching.” Student teaching, for those of you who aren’t in the field, is a four-month period of time in which a college student pays full tuition for the privilege of following an experienced teacher through their days and learning the job, eventually doing the job in a supervised environment. This is usually accompanied by an illness (the first introduction to the petri dish that is a school), periods of boredom, and the very humbling experience of being in front of a room full of students for the first time.

For me, this was an excellent learning experience — a tribute to the men I was allowed to work with. But, in 1991, it was also accompanied by interesting world events, as Saddam Hussein had just invaded Kuwait, and the United States, under the leadership of President George H.W. Bush, prepared to go to war to expel him. This caused me some conflict, as I really wanted to get into my career and was hoping this wouldn’t spill over in a way that derailed my plan.

Little did I know.

The shooting war started in the middle of January; the ground assault started in February and was over in four days. My upper respiratory thing was barely in its incubation period by the time the war ended.

What I remember most about that period of time was the leadership of President Bush, and I do not mean his title — I mean his leadership. He was clear about his purpose, he laid out a clear rationale that inspired an international coalition to cooperate, and he made both a moral and a practical case for the war. And then he got out of the way and let his generals do what they do best. It was a thing of beauty.

And, do you remember what he got for his troubles? He got defeated for reelection. And by whom? By a man who became one of his closest friends in his latter years.

I watched the funeral of George H.W. Bush with almost an existential sense of sadness. The death of the man was, ultimately, not that sad — he is reunited with Barbara and with his daughter after a good, good life. But, in many ways, his death represents the end of an epoch. The last President to serve in World War II, possibly the last President to serve in a combat war, with service in the House, as director of Central Intelligence, and as Vice President to his credit. His three most notable domestic accomplishments resonate with the ability to work with people you don’t agree with to (whispers in fear) compromise and actually get things done. His Presidency wasn’t marked with great and grand things — his vision was one of stewardship, marked by comity.

It’s hard to think back through time to realize that Bush 41 was actually born between the Kennedy brothers. As such, his world view had more in common with the older Kennedys than with, say, Donald Trump. Having seen actual difficulties, actual evil in the world, and fought it and beat it into submission, I think the Greatest Generation had a very healthy perspective on the drama of politics.

That time has gone. We have no healthy perspectives on anything, it would seem, and every minor disagreement gets amplified by 24/7 cable news and social media into something akin to the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

My hope, if it maybe even elevates to the level of a resolution, would be that in 2019 we pursue the emergence and elevation of people with a similar worldview. Not Republican, not Democrat; not hyphenated and not abbreviated; not tribal and not obsessive. Just good people, trying to do good.

Godspeed, Mr. President.

“Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Charon’s Blade,” is available at, on Kindle, or through” His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.


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