Where have you gone, Barack Obama? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
Like many Americans, the first time I heard Barack Obama speak was at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. I had only heard about him shortly before that.
"Wow," I thought after hearing his message in Boston. This is a guy who really gets it. This is a candidate smart enough to cure the political malaise that afflicts the nation. Here is a leader who can run against the extremes of both parties and seize the vast middle ground of American politics.
The next day, I wrote that Obama's stirring message joined the late Ronald Reagan's "shining city on a hill" acceptance speech in 1984 and the late Barbara Jordan's keynote address about change in 1992 as exceptional examples of modern American political oratory.
He talked about the true genius of America being its citizens' "faith in simple dreams" and "insistence on small miracles." He warned against "those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes."
"Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America."
Four years later, those words have a melancholy ring. In 2004, Obama presented himself as a unifier, a politician who wasn't concerned with red or blue labels or conservative or liberal tags.
There was nothing about Obama's past that suggested the young lawmaker from Illinois should be the agent of American post-partisanship. Not the bare knuckle politics of Chicago's South Side from which he emerged. And not his hyper-partisan, liberal voting record in the Illinois Legislature.
Contrary to F. Scott Fitzgerald, however, there are indeed second acts in American political lives. And when Obama went to Washington in 2005, he had his chance to do more than just talk about consensus, bipartisanship and a new brand of politics.
But just as in Springfield, Obama proved to be nothing more than a shrewd and opportunistic partisan. He could have joined the bipartisan "Gang of 14" that negotiated a halt to divisive judicial nominations, but didn't. He could have been a leader for bipartisan compromises on immigration, terrorist surveillance and energy, but wasn't.
According to a Washington Post database, Obama votes with his party 96 percent of the time, which makes him tied for the eleventh most partisan member of the Senate. At 96.6 percent, his running mate Joe Biden is the eighth most partisan senator.
By comparison, John McCain votes with his party 88.3 percent of the time which here's a comment on the true nature of bipartisanship in Washington makes him 65th in the partisan rankings.
So Obama needed a new narrative. And in his next political act, he dispensed with centrism and the great middle ground of American politics and espoused the politics of "change" change in pastors, change in churches and calculated changes in his positions on NAFTA, gun control and much else.
Can Obama change the Democratic national convention in 2008? Yes he can.
In 2004, Democrats rallying behind John Kerry insisted that military service and not just National Guard service is essential for the Oval Office. You won't hear any of that this year because the Democratic ticket has neither.
In 2004, Democrats took great delight in lambasting Vice President Dick Cheney's draft deferments during the Vietnam War. You won't hear any of that that this year. Biden, infamous for being one of the Senate's biggest windbags, was disqualified from military service because of asthma.
But all those convention antics pale in comparison to the change in the man who, four years ago, briefly fired the imaginations of Americans tired of the extremes of partisan politics. That Obama has left and gone away if he ever really existed.