In Memoriam: The Old Obama, Who Wanted to Bring People Together

PHOTO: U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama of Illinois delivers the keynote address to delegates on the floor of the FleetCenter on the second day of the Democratic National Convention July 27, 2004 in Boston, Massachusetts.
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The 2004 version of Barack Obama, who captured the nation with a dazzling speech about unity and went on to win the presidency on a message of hope, died on Monday. He was 8 years old.

The cause of death appeared to be a bitter realization that he needed to win reelection in an increasingly partisan political environment, a cancer that he had been battling for months if not years.

Obama's illness got the best of him late Monday, as he announced that his campaign for four more years in the White House would be based not on optimism, but rather the shady corporate record of his opponent, Mitt Romney, who ran a private-equity firm that few Americans knew about before this year.

Obama's announcement was a stark contrast to the speech that catapulted him into his party's sights eight years ago, when he electrified Democrats at their quadrennial convention.

"There is not a liberal America and a conservative America," Obama declared to cheers at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. "There is the United States of America.

"We are one people," Obama roared, perhaps envisioning his political future as the crowd rose to its feet. "All of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America."

And strangely enough, it was in that very speech that Obama predicted his own demise. Just before his climactic applause line, the future president issued a stark warning.

"Even as we speak," he said, "there are those who are preparing to divide us -- the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers, who embrace the politics of anything goes."

On May 21, 2012, more than three years after he was sworn into office, Obama confessed at a press conference in his hometown, Chicago, that he had become one of those peddlers.

That day, his campaign had published a video attacking Romney for his role at his firm, Bain Capital, which bought an Indiana office supplies company and profited off of it before it went bankrupt. The ad said nothing about Obama, and even a handful of Democrats began criticizing the ad for dishonestly targeting the arena of private equity.

While it wasn't Obama first negative ad, he forcefully stood his ground and promised that the debate over the next few months will focus on Romney's background.

"This is not a distraction," he said. "This is what this campaign is going to be about."

Obama's admission was in some ways the completion of a metamorphosis that began even during the 2008 campaign, as it became likely that he would be elected. After promising to throw out so-called politics as usual, Obama broke his first promise by rejecting public funding for his campaign because he could raise millions more on his own. He also ran negative ads against his opponent, John McCain, in that race, too.

Later in his presidency, Obama would crusade against a Supreme Court decision that allowed so-called super PACs to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on election ads. He said the decision would corrupt American politics, but after his rivals took advantage of the system, he abandoned his ideological view and embraced his own super PAC, even sending his cabinet secretaries to fundraisers for it.

"I know for a fact they feel like they had to do that. ... They did not feel that they could stand on principle," said a former administration official who asked not to be named. "He wanted to change politics and get people in Washington to get along better. But that did not happen."

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