Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Reflections on Obama's Non Liberal Speech

E.J. Dionne reflects on Obama's fatherhood sermon this past father's day.
For a campaign that wants to fight Republican claims that Obama is a down-the-line liberal, here is a theme he has been talking about for a long time that simply doesn't fit into anyone's parody of liberalism.

Yes, his speech spoke of what government could do to meet responsible fathers "halfway." But Obama's emphasis was not on programs but on the personal responsibility of fathers to "be there for their children, and set high expectations for them, and instill in them a sense of excellence and empathy."

Moreover, Obama told his own story as the son of a single mother. She "struggled at times to pay the bills; to give us the things that other kids had; to play all the roles that both parents are supposed to play." Yet he was devoid of self-pity. "I was luckier than most," Obama acknowledged.

For a guy accused of being an elitist, he didn't sound like one in this sermon, a perfect volley in that phase of the campaign when his imperative is to reintroduce himself to an electorate that still doesn't know much about him.

This is all true. But it would be unfortunate if Obama's words were read only as an attempt to win white votes. It actually matters that a presidential candidate is taking the costs of fatherlessness seriously.

Every social problem is made much, much worse by the abandonment of children by their fathers. Yes, social justice depends upon what government does. Yes, government should do far more to relieve the burdens on those who struggle economically and work hard for little pay. And, yes, racism is a damaging reality that explains many of the problems faced by African-Americans -- including family breakdown itself.
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