Obama Speaks on Father Responsibilities

October 5, 2015

WASHINGTON — It's unprecedented. Barack Obama is using his campaign for president to upbraid African-American men who abandon their children.

The Illinois senator's politically risky message highlights a stark and very personal contrast between his upbringing and that of rival John McCain.

In a speech delivered Sunday to the congregation of the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, the Democratic presidential nominee lamented that too many fathers “have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men … nowhere is this more true than in the African-American community.”

This is the racial equivalent of Nixon going to China. While social conservatives like to draw attention to the unwillingness of too many young black men to assume the responsibilities of fatherhood, Democrats and liberals are more likely to focus on social barriers and systemic racism.

But lately, it is liberal African-Americans themselves who have taken up the issue. The comedian and commentator Bill Cosby caused a stir last year when he published a book arguing that black culture, including its music and its attitude toward education, sends the wrong message to both young men and young women, who too often behave irresponsibly as a result.

It is a message that Mr. Obama has also taken up, both in his book The Audacity of Hope and during this campaign. On Sunday, the challenges facing black families dominated his address.

“We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled since we were children,” he told the congregants, as he recited a litany of grim statistics: “Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; they're nine times more likely to drop out of schools, 20 times more likely to end up in prison ….