The Tribune has just endorsed Barack Obama for president in a graceful editorial that advises anyone thinking the Democrat is an empty suit that the Tribune has seen inside the suit and found an extraordinary person. The Tribune shrewdly invoked Abraham Lincoln, in whose presidency the paper’s rooted. “The Tribune in its earliest days took up the abolition of slavery and linked itself to a powerful force for that cause — the Republican Party,” the editorial recalls. Thereafter, “conservative principles” guided the paper, which for reasons the Tribune does not elaborate on caused it to support every Republican presidential candidate for president, Lincolnesque or entirely otherwise, with the exceptions of independents Horace Greeley in 1872 and Teddy Roosevelt in 1912. Those decisions “were driven by outrage at inept and corrupt business and political leaders.”

Says the Tribune, putting it mildly, “We see parallels today.”

So Obama’s the first Democrat ever the Tribune could bring itself to get behind. I’m not as surprised as some Tribune readers — not to mention staffers — who simply couldn’t imagine it happening. I wish the Tribune hadn’t asked readers for input. I wish, for this occasion if none other, that the dim suits of old still ran the paper, so the endorsement could be hailed as reason at long last triumphing over habit. Instead, it’s history made by a gang that wants Chicago to see how ready it is to smash some pottery.

But Bruce Dold remains editor of the editorial page, and his choice became the Tribune‘s choice, which isn’t how it’s necessarily worked in the past. And it’s a good, sober, intelligent editorial. The Web site’s already got hundreds of responses, and from the dissenters comes the usual stuff: “You people are about as open-minded as a rock,” and “Are we supposed to be surprised?” and “What a crock.” But it’s a brand-new crop of dissenters.