Every long now and then, a transcendent figure arrives on the landscape of history.
That, in sharpest essence, is Sen. Barack Obama and his politics of hope in the campaign of 2008.
In the course of his fairly short political career, he has visited with our Editorial Board three times. Each time, after he's taken his leave, we've found ourselves struck by him, wondering at thoughts that, "This guy is extraordinary."
We're not a starry-eyed lot. We've chatted with presidents and statesmen and legends. We've often been impressed, but never been mesmerized. And then, Obama arrives and leaves us somewhat marveling.
He has that kind of effect on people. No doubt you've read about it elsewhere. You get a sense of it on television and at his rallies. But you don't really feel the full power of it until you're in a room with him.
Barack Obama is different.
In conversation, he comes across as engaging, sharp, unassuming, confident, visionary, positive and genuinely altruistic. Real.
The story of his life reinforces those impressions. While other college graduates were starting the climb up the salary ladder, he took a low-paying job in Chicago as a community organizer. When he became an attorney, he specialized in civil rights and helped successfully sue the state for failing to implement a federal voter-registration law. He also worked on the case of a whistle-blower who lost her job after exposing corruption in a research project.
The pundits label him as a liberal, and Republican opponents certainly will. Without question, his leanings are further left than ours.
But those are old-school labels, branded by old-school thought. Obama's approach is less about reflexive ideology than it is about a common-sense search for solutions. That's precisely what's refreshing about him.
Off-the-cuff the other day, he offered a kind comment about Republican ideas, and gosh, the knee-jerk firestorm it set off among politics-as-usual Democrats. It's time the country focuses on real issues, not artificial ones.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, who has served less time in elective office than Obama, has questioned his experience, but the record shows he has made an impact on real issues.
In the Illinois Senate, he passed legislation restricting the gifts politicians could accept from lobbyists and he also helped set up KidsCare, a program that provides health care to children in non-Medicaid families. In the U.S. Senate, he worked across the aisle with Sen. Richard Lugar to pass legislation intended to keep nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists and with Sen. Tom Coburn to improve oversight of federal spending after Hurricane Katrina.
Beyond that, we agree with speechwriter Theodore Sorensen, who told the New York Times, "The most important quality for a president, as Kennedy and Roosevelt demonstrated, is not how many roll call votes he answered sitting in the Senate, but his qualities as a leader who can mobilize people, inspire them, galvanize them, arouse them to action."
History will be on the ballot when Democratic primary voters go to the polls on Feb. 5. It will mark the first time a black and the first time a woman has a realistic chance to win the presidency. These are no small milestones. And Illinois takes special pride in both candidacies -- home to Obama, our junior senator, and birthplace to Clinton, a native of Park Ridge.
But the real history to be made is the course change Obama offers from the politics of division that has polarized us for so long.
Obama is different, and we endorse him.
He can galvanize the nation. He can bring us closer together. He can stem the cynicism of Washington and our political process. He can enlist the citizenry in community service. He can work with Republicans and independents as well as Democrats.
He can reduce the mood of fear. He can replace it with a mood of hope.