A week or so before Election Day 2008, it occurred to me that a John McCain victory could well spell disaster for the American Experiment. Why? Half the nation would NOT accept him as president. Half the nation, so thoroughly appalled by the past eight years, had completely distorted the life and essence of a good man.

Ironically, most of these same tormenters had profusely professed to admire McCain as a man of singular integrity just a few short months before. But the frenzied stakes of a national campaign for ultimate power transformed their erstwhile hero into the personification of Republican evil. This powerful contingent in the American body politic had traveled down the road with Republicans as far as they were prepared to go. Another Republican president—no matter how virtuous—risked civil war.

On the other hand, Barack Obama, an appealing newcomer and something of a blank slate, symbolized a fresh start as well as a dividend on the American promise. Once the votes were counted, many John McCain voters (like me) embraced the sunnier side of what we did not know about this new president. We stood optimistic about the unparalleled American tendency to produce transformational presidents from unlikely soil. We mostly watched the historic elevation of President Obama with moist eyes and high hopes.

Of course, it is worth noting that not all of the vanquished were ready to concede defeat. The Republican Party split to some extent—some of us eager to believe in miracles and another segment hunkered down with Rush and Sean Hannity rooting for abject failure.

Why did we hope? What was our unlikely aspiration? Perhaps our half of the GOP could find common cause with a less militant wing of the Democratic Party led by the President and a new generation of leaders not formed by the cultural turmoil of the 1960s. We understood that we were going to have to leave many of our friends behind--but maybe the "vital center" really was something more than a rhetorical flourish.

Most important in the calculation, we accepted the reality that our party handed off a crisis that posed an existential threat to our survival as a nation. Desperate times call for serious introspection and bold action. Perhaps the acute exigencies in our path might form a new political sensibility. Perhaps this President might actually transcend the partisan trench warfare that had visited such destruction on the political landscape over the past few decades and rally a new coalition in pursuit of our lethal common foes.

What did the President have to gain?

Actually, a radically sweeping political realignment offered distinct advantages. Looking down the road, it was clear to most objective observers that the center-right American citizenry would never fully accept the pungently “liberal” policies of the Nancy Pelosi-wing of the Democratic Party. If President Obama were to be a truly transformative president, he would need to act boldly—and his boldness would need to be forward-looking rather than rooted in the traditional liberal past.

He would need to jettison the rigidly partisan leadership on his side of the aisle and reach out to patriotic and pragmatic realists who would place American survival over party ideologies. While painful to initiate, a genuinely innovative coalition of interests might have guaranteed permanent political success for the President as well as an authentic prescription for national well being.

But, alas, the President decided to eschew the bold move and chose the path of least resistance. Republicans skeptics proved absolutely right. Even as he followed the established course of the Bush administration on Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Banking Crisis, the President cast his lot with the liberal ideologues in terms of his domestic agenda.

He used his power and popularity to “cram down” an extravagant and unprecedented $787 billion stimulus package. Even worse, the White House chose to be conspicuously absent in the legislative process, dashing hopes that the President would insure bipartisan participation and cooperation on Capitol Hill. Instead, he forced his opponents to swallow a bill created under the firm hand of Speaker Pelosi and her uncompromising leadership team.

His budget and “cap and trade” bill were further examples of a high-handed and strong-arm leadership style—and, even more disconcerting, further evidence that Speaker Pelosi was fast becoming the most powerful political player in Washington.

Enter the health care debate in which the President, once again, abdicated his role in crafting the legislation, once again, leaving the details to the House. The President chose to use (or misuse) his gift for rhetoric to oversimplify the discussion, too often employing “false choice” and “straw men” arguments. Too often, the President casts his opponents as shameless advocates for the unsustainable status quo working against the public good for nefarious reasons.

After unsuccessfully trying to blitz the American people into a half-baked bill, the President still seems inclined to berate us into submission on health care, disdainfully importuning us to overcome our ignorance and fear. The President needs to take a deep breath, slow down, and build a consensus to do the right thing. A consensus bill is out there. In truth, there is wide agreement on many of the most important elements of reform.

For the President, this truly is a time for choosing. To succeed, he must take the lead in a meaningful way. He must fulfill his promise to be a unifying president and reach across the aisle to come up with a pragmatic health care plan that addresses our real problems rather than pay off ideological expectations. This will anger his base—but he must place the good of his country above partisan politics.

While I am no longer Pollyannaish about a new era of selfless American political cooperation, there is still reason to hope that this President can work with elements of the loyal opposition to find bipartisan solutions to our most frightening challenges.

Godspeed to those elected officials of good will who are willing to work together for the common good.