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6/16/2008
OBAMA NAILS IT ON FATHERS DAY

I don’t think Barack Obama would be a good president and am not voting for him. But his speech on the responsibilities of parenthood before the 20,000 member Apostolic Church of God - an almost all-black church near the loop in Chicago - revealed something about the man that I didn’t know was there; a basically conservative outlook on personal responsibility and the importance of family.

Too often, the left dismisses the family as the anchor on which our civilization rests. They are much too busy trying to stretch, twist, or otherwise mutilate the definition of “family” to pay much attention to the impact it has on society and its members.

Far be for me to deny that there may be many definitions of “family” and that some of those definitions includes people of the same sex raising children. The only requirement I’ve ever heard of for a family is that there are loving, caring relationships irrespective of the gender or sexual orientation of the parents or children.

But in seeking to expand the definition of family, the left has chosen to denigrate the traditional nuclear family and traditional family values as somehow poisonous to society rather than embracing them as the central fact of life in any culture. By promoting a culture of permissiveness - which is at odds with the traditional role of the family as a bulwark against chaos and the major force for discipline and prudence in society - the left sacrifices the meaning of family for the abstract and superficial changes in definition that would include gays and gay couples.

Obama didn’t mention gays in his talk on the family yesterday. He didn’t mention alternative lifestyles or that “it takes a village” to raise a child. He eschewed every liberal talking point on the family to ram home the notion that families need fathers to be whole and that those who refuse to take responsibility for fatherhood aren’t real men:

Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it.

But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing - missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.

You and I know how true this is in the African-American community. We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled - doubled - since we were children. We know the statistics - that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.

One commenter at Balloon Juice had an interesting take:

I do think that this is an interesting piece of dog whistle politics. The tough truth is that ninety percent of all male humans can knock a girl up, and that doing your part to raise the kids is what makes you a real man. That’s a message which applies no matter what color your skin is. It’s a dog-whistle to intimate that African Americans or Latinos or other beige folks need to hear it more than the rest of us do.

Do I think that Barack Obama is acutely aware of this? Oh, yes, indeed. Do I think the reporters who are dealing in stereotypes in reporting his sermon are? Not so much.

The question of whether African Americans and Hispanics “need” to hear the message of responsible fatherhood is moot. A few figures courtesy of Presto-Pundit:

The nation’s out-of-wedlock birth rate is 38%. Among white children, 28% are now born to a single mother; among Hispanic children it is 50% and reaches a chilling, disorienting peak of 71% for black children. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly a quarter of America’s white children (22%) do not have any male in their homes; nearly a third (31%) of Hispanic children and over half of black children (56%) are fatherless.

This represents a dramatic shift in American life. In the early 1960s, only 2.3% of white children and 24% of black children were born to a single mom. Having a dad, in short, is now a privilege, a ticket to middle-class status on par with getting into a good college.

[snip]

A study of black families 10 years ago, when the out-of-wedlock birthrate was not as high as today, found that single moms reported only 20% of the “baby’s daddy” spent time with the child or took a “lot” of interest in the baby ..

Clearly all races have a percentage of deadbeat dads. But it is equally clear that Obama was targeting African American men in his speech if only because when confronted with a choice of treating a couple of cases of the flu or an epidemic, the good physician triages the situation and treats those most in need. In this case, Obama’s own background with an absent father resonated deeply with his audience:

I know what it means to have an absent father, although my circumstances weren’t as tough as they are for many young people today. Even though my father left us when I was two years old, and I only knew him from the letters he wrote and the stories that my family told, I was luckier than most. I grew up in Hawaii, and had two wonderful grandparents from Kansas who poured everything they had into helping my mother raise my sister and me - who worked with her to teach us about love and respect and the obligations we have to one another. I screwed up more often than I should’ve, but I got plenty of second chances. And even though we didn’t have a lot of money, scholarships gave me the opportunity to go to some of the best schools in the country. A lot of kids don’t get these chances today. There is no margin for error in their lives. So my own story is different in that way.

Still, I know the toll that being a single parent took on my mother - how she struggled at times to the pay bills; to give us the things that other kids had; to play all the roles that both parents are supposed to play. And I know the toll it took on me. So I resolved many years ago that it was my obligation to break the cycle - that if I could be anything in life, I would be a good father to my girls; that if I could give them anything, I would give them that rock - that foundation - on which to build their lives. And that would be the greatest gift I could offer.

So what do we make of this clear break with liberal orthodoxy on the family? It appears to me to be heartfelt and something that has come to the surface as a result of his own personal experience. The fact that much of what he says reflects conservative orthodoxy regarding the family, African American culture, and personal responsibility will probably raise some grumblings on the left and within the African American leadership which is terrified that any talk of responsibility that does not include white racism as a cause will diminish their roles in the black community.

In fact, this thoughtful rumination on the left and personal responsibility raises many interesting questions:

The big myth lurking around out there in our highly charged partisan war of ideas is that liberals don’t believe in personal responsibility. That we want government to take care of everything while everyone gets to do whatever the hell we want.

Of course this is more caricature than characterization.

One of the things that I was impressed with in regards to Senator Obama early on is his approach to the status of the American family, and we’re not just talking about deadbeat dads either, but the whole deal, from making sure your kids sit down and do their homework, to knowing when to turn the television off, to providing a healthy diet. In his book The Audacity of Hope, Obama wrote passionately and honestly about the responsibilities of parenthood, and how too many parents aren’t meeting those responsibilities.

And it was these themes that took center stage in Obama’s father’s day address yesterday. I’m sure there’s a way to twist this, but here’s the thing, and perhaps it’s a key difference. Republicans, I believe, too often hide behind a cloak of personal responsibility; a shadow of the small government theme they claim to be so steadfastly for.

But sometimes, and this necessity is apolitical, it takes a leader to stand up and demand from the people that they actually adhere to those precepts of personal responsibility. That Obama is black will likely dominate the coverage from many corners much along the vein of; he’s black, so he can tell this to black people when non-black people can’t.

But the familial problems that face this country are not strictly held within the confines of the African American community, and I don’t think it is the color of Obama’s skin that makes him the best equipped to speak on these issues.

For all the discussion of who is the elitist, and who isn’t, what gives Obama the authority to speak on these topics is not the color of his skin, but instead the nature of his youth. He was not born into a rich family, and his father wasn’t an Admiral. He grew up, like many of us, in a broken home, and worked his way up from humble beginnings. As a boy whose own father in many ways abandoned him, Obama knows exactly the kind of world many children are coming in today, and yet he stands as an example of not only what can be accomplished, but also, well, how to be a father and a man of a strong family.

I would say amen to most of that except the author ducks and dodges the question of where personal responsibility fits in with liberal ideology. He seems to be making the case that Obama has the cred to talk about responsibility because of his life story. Okay, I’ll buy that. But aside from accusing conservatives of “hiding behind” personal responsibility, he is silent on whether Obama’s call for taking responsibility for one’s actions is ultimately a liberal or conservative notion. An ideology that promotes permissiveness almost to the exclusion of everything else can hardly make claim to be promoting personal responsibility when telling males (of all races) “if it feels good, do it” and don’t worry about the consequences.

Nor can an ideology responsible for creating a welfare state that is directly responsible for many of these same ills Obama spoke about yesterday suddenly turn around and embrace Obama’s message unless adherents are willing to alter fundamental precepts regarding personal responsibility and ultimately, the family. What Obama was saying is that poverty and hopelessness are only part of the problem and government solutions, while important, are only part of the answer. Obama has correctly identified the family - with both parents intimately involved in their children’s lives - as the fundamental life preserver for the African American and other disadvantaged communities.

Will the left listen? Or will they simply see this speech by Obama as a political “dog whistle?” If they wish to make the 2008 election a “hinge” election where the political realities are altered and a new, liberal era is ushered in for the next quarter century or so, they best heed Obama’s words and make them their own.

By: Rick Moran at 8:25 am
21 Responses to “OBAMA NAILS IT ON FATHERS DAY”
  1. 1
    DrKrbyLuv Said:
    11:32 am 

    One of the fascinating things taking place in the presidential race is realignment of the two major parties through their candidates. Indeed, family values have become Obama territory as Republicans continue their economic assault on the middle class.

    Republicans had always been the party identified as being better stewards of the economy; more prudent with taxes and spending. Poll after poll now tells us that Obama is more trusted when it comes to the economy than McCain. This will be a killer issue, recent Gallup polls showed that 78% of Americans held negative views on the economy and that 86% of voters see the economy getting worse.

    The Republican game of cutting taxes while increasing the deficit is beginning to irk voters who see the astounding self destructive lunacy of this formula. Bush doubled our national debt from some $5 trillion to over $9 trillion dollars. The parasitic financing load is becoming a huge part of our budget and our debtor nation status (trillions owed to China and Saudi Arabia) is eroding our national sovereignty.

    Republican economics have deeply hurt American families. Our children are born into debt (national debt transcends generations) and our young college graduates begin their working lives strapped with record high tuition debt. Elderly people on fixed incomes are hardest hit by the current inflation and boomers are watching their 401-k plans and nest egg evaporating from inflation, a collapsing currency and a dreadful stock market.

    Americans are beginning to see that a sound economy is critical to and an integral part of family values.

  2. 2
    Andy Said:
    12:04 pm 

    Another great post Rick.

  3. 3
    Terra Said:
    12:15 pm 

    That is an interesting argument.

    Being fairly young I’ve never heard the argument before that Republicans are the party of responsibility.

    All I’ve ever seen of them as being the party of economic irresponsibility.

    Not saying Republicans. Conservative ideology is pretty much based on individual responsibility. Republican politicians give lip service only to conservative values like responsibility - and you are correct in your assessment.

    ed.

  4. 4
    Michael B. Said:
    1:09 pm 

    Its a pure political stunt. Take a message that is wildly popular with white voters, work in a sympathetic twist (his own single parent upbringing), and presto-change-o, the media focuses on his new conservative familiy values (correspondingly now ignoring his gaffes, poor judgment, shady relationships and inexperience). If he truly believes these things… GREAT! But why wait your entire life to make a Father’s day statement about this- as you pointed out, this has been a huge problem in the black community for all of his adult life.

    He risks NOTHING by this. There is nothing he can say or do that will cause him to lose the black vote (97% in one poll), but it is an appealing message to white independent voters. It a brilliant move.

    The validity of the message is not negated by his motives, but don’t be so naive as to believe this is not a calculated political speech.

  5. 5
    Sweatng Through Fog Said:
    1:16 pm 

    I’m certainly no Obama supporter, but I loved the speech. And it is amusing to see the reaction on the left, claiming he showed a lack of respect for alternative families for failing to mention them. Give me a break!

  6. 6
    Buffoon Said:
    1:32 pm 

    Spot On Michael B. You beat me to the punch. The message was fine, the messenger was about as sincere as a prom night I Love You…

  7. 7
    Bill Baar Said:
    4:05 pm 

    I’m offended when he talks like this. I voted for Obama to be my Senator, not my Fatherhood mentor.

    I’m convinced he nails it on Father’s day to avoid getting nailed by having to talk about Todd Stroger, Tony Rezko, Ayham Alsammare, Nadhmi Auchi and the other cast of characters that litter Obama’s past.

    At first during the primaries and election, I thought he talked like this for white audiences, but he just keeps on going with it and I’m convinced know, knowing all of his past, it’s just a dodge to avoid topics where he has responsiblitiy as a our representative; not as Fatherhood mentor.

    Well said Bill. But as long as the press isn’t asking him questions about those associations, why should he?

    ed.

  8. 8
    Bill Arnold Said:
    4:50 pm 

    The validity of the message is not negated by his motives, but don’t be so naive as to believe this is not a calculated political speech.
    Everything the 2 major candidates will do for the remainder of the run-up to the election will be interpreted in the political context, and the candidates know it. BObama has been married to one woman (his first and only wife) for 18 years. That, and their children, gets anyone family-values credits IMO. Why would one presume that it was insincere and political, rather than sincere and political?

  9. 9
    still liberal Said:
    8:44 pm 

    One of the most successfully marketed (and incorrect) right wing ideas is that of poverty and the “welfare state.” This is a very easy attack line on liberals. The fact is, poverty was not created nor is it maintained by programs to assist the poor. The fact is that poverty rates have declined significantly since the introduction of modern assistance programs in the United States.

    Poverty has been with us always ans likely always will be. Before the so called welfare state, people were incarcerated or placed in poor houses if they could not work or pay their bills. Poverty has many root causes. The lack of desire to work is but one small part of the problem, not the be all and end all that I see it represented often as by right wing folks.

    I don’t know very many liberals who do not think personal responsibility is important. I started working at 13 and have paid my own way entirely now for nearly 40 years. Society does owe the weakest of its members help and assistance when it is needed. Such help should be focused on getting people in a position to care for themselves. Many people, for a multitude of reasons (such as mental illness or retardation, severe addictions, etc.) will never be able to care for themselves and society is obligated to help. Remember, the vast majority of people work themselves off of public assistance.

    I have no problem with conservatives claiming personal resonsibility as their issue. They are good at it. Just remember that the vast majority of self-identified liberals also live responsible lives and make their own way in the world. Most conservatives are compassionate and caring people, not the mean spirited, uncaring jerks they are stereotyped as. Most liberals are, by the same token, responsible and self-suffecient.

  10. 10
    Nagarajan Sivakumar Said:
    10:26 pm 

    I have to say that this is a sincere speech. Obama has been known to address parenting issues before. Given the fact that he had an absentee father himself, i think he feels a lot about this issue- of course he knew that this speech would get a lot of attention, given the fact he was in a.. ahem.. new church !

    The real tragedy of the speech is that it is even needed in the first place !
    Does any one, let alone a politician running for office need to remind men of their duties as fathers ?? It does tell me (a non US citizen) how more and more liberal the country has become and has steadily lost its conservative moorings over the last 40 years.

    An ever bigger tragedy is the fact that the torch bearer of the Democratic party does not have the honesty to acknowledge how badly the situation was exarcebated by his Democrat party - how much the African American community’s sense of victimhood has been exploited to the hilt. or how badly dependent blacks became on the Democratic party and consequentially, the idea of a welfare state.

    For all of Obama’s talk, he never had the courage or the decency to acknowledge that the only Democrat who had the courage to tackle the problems posed by welfare to the black community was Bill Clinton. Welfare basically was exploited to the hilt by both the Democrats and a section of the black community. Clinton at the very least tried to bring some much needed reform

    But seriuosly, you can count on this speech to do almost nothing other than help Obama politically. remember how his speech on race was heralded as the greatest speech ever on race relations ? does any one realize that after eloquently defending his church (not just Wright) two months back , he basically threw all of them under the bus - his speeches, while always trying to be sincere ALWAYS seem to be politically calculated.

  11. 11
    Unpartisan.com Political News and Blog Aggregator Trackbacked With:
    2:46 am 

    Obama considers post-surge trip to Iraq…

    The fact that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama hasn’t visited Iraq since January 2006 …

  12. 12
    Michael B. Said:
    7:32 am 

    Bill Arnold,

    I never said that he was insincere. In fact, I said “if he truly believes these things… GREAT!”. I question his timing more than anything- why now, and not the last 18 years? Is the problem with absent fathers in the black community something new? Did he suddenly become concerned about this issue last week while contemplating Father’s Day? What happened to make this an issue, when it hasn’t been an issue for him for the past 18 years? I’m fairly sure that white, independent voters hold the answer to this mystery. Its a pure, brilliant, political stunt- for Christ’s sake, the man has the chief right-wing-nut believing that he’s a social conservative.

  13. 13
    The New Centrist Said:
    10:07 am 

    This is the “speech on race” Obama should have made months ago. Now, when he sees that Latinos and working-class white voters are skeptical of his “change” mantra, he makes this speech. I honestly thought you would see right through this…

    http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/let-us-by-all-means-have-an-honest-conversation-about-race-11379

    When the Moynihan report was written, 25 percent of black children were being born out of wedlock—a shocking figure at the time. By 1980, the out-of-wedlock birthrate for blacks had more than doubled. It now stands at an astounding 70 percent. Marriage rates for blacks have also fallen to perilous levels; only 32 percent are currently married and living with their spouse. Today, the overwhelming majority of black children will spend most of their lives being raised by single mothers—or increasingly, like Barack Obama, by their grandparents.

    High rates of single female-headed households, in turn, lead to much higher poverty rates for blacks: 37 percent for female-headed families, as compared with just 8 percent for two-parent families. And children raised in female-headed households are more likely to drop out of school, to get into trouble with the law, and to become single parents themselves.

    Obama’s Philadelphia speech was a perfect opportunity for him to address this obstinate reality, which, in order to provide a fuller picture, must be placed alongside the progressive march of so many blacks into the bastions of the American middle class. Here was an especially opportune moment to talk about the consequences of black family breakdown, a subject Obama could have discussed with the compelling authority of one who himself experienced abandonment by his father but had refused to follow the same path and had become a model husband and father. He had even written about the issue with rare candor in his book, The Audacity of Hope (2006), acknowledging that the breakdown of the black family “reflects a casualness toward sex and child-rearing among black men that renders black children more vulnerable—and for which there is simply no excuse.”

    But instead of repeating this thoughtful assessment in Philadelphia, the candidate offered up only pious nostrums, linking the erosion of black families to “a lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that come from not being able to provide for one’s family,” before going on to blame a lack of parks, policemen walking the beat, garbage collection, and building-code enforcement—in brief, government policy—for helping to “create a cycle of violence, blight, and neglect.” His formulation conspicuously avoided the issue of behavior—like dropping out of school and having children out of wedlock—that virtually guarantees the continuation of the cycle of poverty.

  14. 14
    Larry your brother Said:
    10:20 am 

    “But his speech on the responsibilities of parenthood before the 20,000 member Apostolic Church of God – an almost all-black church near the loop in Chicago – revealed something about the man that I didn’t know was there; a basically conservative outlook on personal responsibility and the importance of family.”

    I don’t think you’ve been listening carefully enough. I don’t know where he’s been on the issue for the last 18 years, but since he announced his candidacy (and I believe during that speech) he has talked about fatherhood and family on a number of occasions. Like #9, I find it amusing that conservatives think liberals disdain the idea of personal responsibility and advancement. The difference between liberals and conservatives on this issue may be that we are more willing to help those in more distress catch up a little.

  15. 15
    Scrapiron Said:
    10:29 am 

    The same people who wanted to lynch Bill Cosby for “writing” and giving the speach that Hussein O stole and used are now making Hussein a hero for stealing and ’speaking’ the speach. Go figure. If it isn’t written on paper by someone else Hussein O is Larry, Mo and Curly rolled into one.

  16. 16
    Bill Baar Said:
    11:06 am 

    One other very good point that was missed was Obama’s assertion the responsiblities of Fatherhood do not end at conception.

    The right-to-life folks have been quick to jump on that in the past as they should. A Parents responsibilites should continue from conception through birth, and then on to adulthood.

    Regardless where one stands on abortion, it’s more evidence that for a smart guy, Obama puts darn little thought into issues.

  17. 17
    mannning Said:
    1:25 pm 

    Is it Obama that we are praising or some political wonk that wrote the speech and put it on the teleprompter? It would seem, after hearing him ah-uh-mm-am extemporaneously on several questions, that if it isn’t on the prompter, he is lost. Are we running against a simple reader or a thoughtful person?

  18. 18
    Michael B. Said:
    2:42 pm 

    Bravo, Manning. I’ve been saying for months that he is only a golden throated orator when he’s reading a teleprompter, but gags, sputters, and rambles extemporaneously. He’s the reincarnation of Christian de Neuvillette, and the political speech-writer-wonk is his Cyrano de Bergerac.

    Of course, Bush isn’t the greatest speaker either, and I voted for him.

  19. 19
    Thomas Jackson Said:
    3:25 pm 

    I do not believe a man who believes an infant who survives an abortion should be denied medical care is in any position to lecture anyone about a father’s responsibilities.

    Especially not when he believes exposing his children to his spiritual mentor, Rev. Wright is the correct thing to do.

    If you have no moral compass you shouldn’t lecture others. Obama is a bad joke.

  20. 20
    edward cropper Said:
    9:53 pm 

    It isn’t any wonder that Obama is snowing the general public when this blog falls for his family sermon blizzard.
    He says all the right things to woo middle class white evangelicals. Where in his total background has he been so demanding of the black community regarding family responsibilities? Where in all the many weeks of the current campaign has he rose to the occasion? It is a win win for him.
    The nut cases on the left will ignore it because they see it for what it is, a con job.
    The same naiveté that lulled gullible Huckabee followers into his camp will more than likely lead that same bunch into a more favorable attitude toward the Messiah also because he loves the family. PT Barnum sleep well.

  21. 21
    M. Wilcox Said:
    10:50 pm 

    And for Mothers Day he will lambast the women with the morals of an alley cat that pop out children with no clue who the father is.I was under the obviously misguided idea Fathers Day and Mothers Day were days to celebrate those that have chosen to raise the next generation but I’m just a right wing wacko that doesn’t know a day of honor is a great day to ignore those that deserve praise.

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