This is my Barack Obama column. Why should Oak Parkers vote for Barack - and not Hillary Clinton - in the Feb. 5 Illinois primary? What does Barack's ascent in the polls mean for places like Oak Park which have been working, imperfectly and unevenly, at racial inclusion since the 1960s?
The first question is easy. Barack and all the other front-runners are trying to wear the "change" mantle. But in this election, change is a code word. It is a shorthand way of saying the war in Iraq was wrong and needs to be brought to a conclusion.
Here is what Barack said in October 2002 while he was still a state senator: "What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. ... I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than the best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda."
Five years later, these predictions have come true.
And Barack said these things around the time Hillary was voting to support the war. Today, Hillary questions Barack's experience to be president. I'll take this kind of inexperience over Hillary's opinion poll-vetted views any day.
Personal note: Before the war, I was convinced by Colin Powell's speech from the well of the United Nations that the war was necessary because of the nuclear threat posed by Saddam Hussein. As my wife reminds me, while I was on Hillary's side, she agreed with Barack. Unlike Hillary, I now acknowledge my mistake.
Change means that people are tired of politics as blood sport. Hillary defended her husband against impeachment by conjuring up a "vast right-wing conspiracy." Today she argues she is the only candidate who can "stand up to the attacks from the Republicans" in a general election.
Barack is the post-impeachment, post-Karl Rove candidate who can appeal to all voters, not just narrow partisans. His message of hope has a good chance of transcending the Republican negative ads and bringing the disenfranchised to the polls. If he does so, he wins.
Here is the other thing about Barack that Hillary lacks: When he speaks, you hear echoes of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and - dare I say it - Ronald Reagan. He is likeable. He is smart. He is inspiring.
So what does this mean for Oak Park? In my mind, Barack's election in pearly white Iowa is linked directly to the firebombing of Percy Julian's house in Oak Park in 1950 and the subsequent passage of the Fair Housing Ordinance by the village in 1968.
Julian's continued presence in the village after the bombing called on the better angels of ordinary white citizens in Oak Park to look beyond race. Today another thoughtful black man is going about uniting a polarized country with an inclusive message.