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Small Rezko Shadow on Big Endorsement Day for Obama

By Alec MacGillis
Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize-winning author who famously declared Bill Clinton America's "first black president," has decided to endorse the man who really would earn that designation, Barack Obama. Alongside that good news for the Illinois senator from the world of high letters, though, came an unwelcome word from the world of low politics: Tony Rezko is headed to jail.

Morrison announced her decision in a adulatory letter to Obama, now posted on the candidate's web site. She tells Obama that her admiration for him has little to do with his biracial background -- "I would not support you if that was all you had to offer or because it might make me 'proud'" -- just as her liking for Hillary Clinton had little to do with her gender. Instead, she writes that she sees Obama as the right person for a potentially transformative moment in American history. "This opportunity for a national evolution (even revolution) will not come again soon, and I am convinced you are the person to capture it," she writes.

Morrison -- the author of "Beloved," "Jazz," and "The Bluest Eye," among other books -- couches her praise in her characteristically lush style. "In thinking carefully about the strengths of the candidates, I stunned myself when I came to the following conclusion: that in addition to keen intelligence, integrity and a rare authenticity, you exhibit something that has nothing to do with age, experience, race or gender and something I don't see in other candidates. That something is a creative imagination which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom," she writes. "Our future is ripe, outrageously rich in its possibilities. Yet unleashing the glory of that future will require a difficult labor, and some may be so frightened of its birth they will refuse to abandon their nostalgia for the womb."

She concludes: "There have been a few prescient leaders in our past, but you are the man for this time."

Morrison's memorable labeling of Bill Clinton came in a New Yorker magazine article defending him against the investigations by special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, a pursuit that Morrison said evoked past persecution of black men by white authorities.

"African-American men seemed to understand it right away. Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President," she wrote. "Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. And when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the President's body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and bodysearched, who could gainsay these black men who knew whereof they spoke?"

Back in the mundane world of campaign "bundlers" and $2,300 checks, Obama must contend with additional attention on his past history with Rezko, following today's report that the Chicago developer and dealmaker was arrested by federal agents this morning after having his bail revoked for unclear reasons, shortly before he is to stand trial on charges of fraud, attempted extortion and money laundering. Rezko has helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for Obama's campaigns over the years, was represented in his real estate dealings by Obama's law firm, and was involved in an unusual real estate purchase with Obama in which he bought a property next door to the house Obama bought, then sold him a strip of the first lot.

Obama has tried for months to put his relationship with Rezko behind him, saying it was a mistake for him to join Rezko in the real estate deal, that he was unaware of Rezko's alleged unsavory activities when he accepted his fundraising help, and that he has never done Rezko any favors in return for his support. His campaign has already returned $85,000 in campaign funds linked to Rezko or his associates dating back to Obama's 2004 Senate campaign, and following recent reports of possible additional Rezko-linked contributions, it has vowed to give back any more tainted money it learns about.

By Washington Post editors  |  January 28, 2008; 12:57 PM ET
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