May I recommend …

I just read Barack Obama’s Father’s Day speech, and it is quite good.  Liberals, in their quite just desire to see the end of repressive social pressures and cultural norms, can sometimes overlook the fact that we humans are both determined and free, that there is nature as well as nurture, that sometimes your troubles really are your own fault.  Obama clearly shows himself here as a true centrist: he completely avoids this potential liberal blind spot, urging fathers (in this case) to cowboy up and be there for their families, something that conservatives have been (also justly) calling for for decades.  But neither does he assume that all problems are just the business of those who have them, resorting to the conservative default that personal problems should lie well under the radar of the general polity and be cured by some mysterious updraft of capital.  Here’s a nice quote that sort of sums up this truly bi-partisan (or a-partisan) oration:

Yes, we need more cops on the street. Yes, we need fewer guns in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. Yes, we need more money for our schools, and more outstanding teachers in the classroom, and more afterschool programs for our children. Yes, we need more jobs and more job training and more opportunity in our communities. 

But we also need families to raise our children. We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child – it’s the courage to raise one. 

Not bad, eh?  I really recommend the whole text.  It seems to be aimed exactly at the point where red and blue states intersect, and not in an insincere or bet-hedging way.  I keep liking this guy more and more.

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7 responses to “May I recommend …

  1. I haven’t read the whole speech yet–I’ll try to do that today–but I did not like the “we need more money for our schools” line. That is throwing good money after bad. Remember how much I said is spent per student in DC schools? $15,000 per year, and they are the worst schools in the country. No, money won’t cut it. I do agree with the second paragraph you quoted, though (and a couple parts of the first one).

  2. misstripentaxi

    hehe…”cowboy up.” One of my favorite phrases, against most of my nobler aspirations.

    I agreed with all of it. But that’s no surprise. I think also most centrists and a reasonable number of conservatives would agree with it as well, simply because he listed good things in a moderately apolitical way. I will say this in response to the school funding comment: I think it would depend on how the money is spent. I do think we should put more money into education – into teacher’s salaries (and not because I’m looking for teaching jobs…okay, not just because of that) to attract a higher caliber of educator, into the fine arts programs, into apprentiship programs for kids who don’t see a future for themselves at college. The awards shouldn’t be based on standardized testing results but on need. If we don’t better fund our schools, what other options do we have to make them better? It doesn’t have to be an issue of throwing money at a problem, but using that money to make the educational experience a better one overall.

    Again, I don’t think he said anything that controversial, it’s the practice and application that puts you on one side of the aisle or another.

  3. The ideals in the second paragraph are great. But what practical measures does he support that will enable and encourage fathers to raise their children? The first paragraph is a list of government expansions that will inevitably curtail the primacy of the nuclear family. If you increase the numbers of cops in the street and take guns away from the fathers of the families, what happens when someone breaks into that father’s house? The right to defend his family is relegated to the State. If you give schools more and more money, according to the template of that bane of American education, “No Child Left Behind,” and then impose massive regulations requiring certain performance levels (absolutely necessary to justify the extra money spent, in this case), then what role does the family have in sparking the child’s creativity and curiosity? Worse, will the artificial standards set by Government bureaucrats (who always know best, of course) cause an Obama administration to follow California’s lead and make it harder and harder to homeschool or form small private schools, until it’s essentially illegal? (I know this is a lot to read into the simple phrase “more money for our classrooms,” and obviously if it’s done right, more money for the classrooms is great and wonderful and necessary. If Obama wants to use the extra money in the classrooms to expand gifted & talented programs instead of keeping the top-tier students down with the dumbest ones, train more special ed teachers to bring our disabled children to levels of competence in life skills, and generally expand the abilities of our educators to help our children succeed, then I’m all for it. I’m just not convinced, based on his history, that he’s at all for increasing responsibility and corresponding liberties on the local and nuclear levels, which is what you need for education to thrive.)

    Misstripentaxi said it exactly right. (except for the gun control part – I think that was controversial, but.) How would he put these pretty words into practice?

  4. I just read the rest of the speech, which perhaps I should have done before I gave my first response, but whatever.

    Kudos to him for coming out and saying that single parenthood does no favors to kids. That needs to be said more often, and boldly, like he does.

    However. Again, I’m not sure that his policies correspond with his words. His position on abortion indicates to me that either he’s not aware that (historically, statistically, psychologically, however you want to approach it) birth control and abortion are the foundation, so to speak, of the phenomena of the broken family. Expanding the accessibility of abortion, shooting down parental consent laws, funding abortion with tax dollars, is NOT going to strengthen the family or give fathers an incentive to take responsibility for the families they engender. I’m not sure what government policy would strengthen the family, but Obama’s won’t. Perhaps pouring those tax dollars into abstinence education? I don’t know what the right answer is to heal this gigantic wound in our society, but I do know absolutely for certain what the wrong answer is. If Obama really wants fathers to take responsibility for their families, he needs to stop encouraging the killing of children just because the parents want to run away from their responsibility.

  5. vanitasqoheleth

    Hmm, a couple of comments. First, he did say he wanted to keep guns out of the hands of bad people , not all people in general. And I agree with both Kat and MC about the funding for schools: a lot depends on how it is directed. I’m guessing that the bit about more qualified teachers and after-school programs aren’t just parts of a list, but the hoped-for result of expanded funding.

    MC, I’m not sure how abortion and contraception cause single parenthood. Not to be cynical here, but wouldn’t the application of those techniques *prevent* single parenthood? At least, I thought that was part of the intention. But I don’t think this speech was about abortion in the first place. It’s about the point where personal and social responsibility meet, and I think that rather than calling for policies that will make fathers responsible (except for the tax breaks on dads who pay child support – kudos for that) I think this is more of a “bully pulpit” sort of thing, where the prez-hopeful tries to set a “moral tone,” etc.

  6. My own cynical comment:
    It’s a good point for him to make, but I have a hunch that this speech is part of a larger strategy to sweet talk women voters who are angry that Hillary didn’t get the nomination into sticking with him and not defecting to McCain.

    I liked the speech though – I don’t fault him for not outlining a plan of action. There is probably not a real plan behind these comments because there is really very little that can actually be done about dead-beat dads. Harsher penalties for failure to pay child support would be great in theory but the truth is that the majority of dads who don’t pay support don’t pay because they really don’t have the money. If the “dad” is enough of a loser to abandon his own kid, he is likely enough of a loser not to be able to hold down a job, manage money, and make the payments. Tax breaks and threats of jail time won’t make the money appear. I guess keeping them in jail would prevent them from irresponsibly fathering other children, but it won’t pay the bills of the existing child.

    Consistent prevention of the situation will be the only way to achieve lasting results. More stigma against irresponsible sex, less sex in the media, and above all, parents talking to their kids about the unglamorous truth behind teenage pregnancy.

    I do like that the speech exposed the problem and increased societal stigma against dead-beat dads. It was a good message for him to deliver around Father’s Day, and if he crafted it to appeal to women voters, it worked on me.

  7. His speech wasn’t about abortion, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t mention it – I was talking about how his rhetoric doesn’t coincide with his policies. Yes, in the short term, abortion prevents single parenthood. In the long term, abortion and birth control increase single parenthood because they makes sex consequences-less, and a widespread societal acceptance of abortion and birth control leads from only married adults using it through levels of increasing promiscuity without consequences to a total lack of stigma against single parenthood and condoms being handed out to middle schoolers, like we have now. It should be self-explanatory why the lack of stigma against single-parenthood would cause increased single-parenthood. And if middle schoolers, especially from low-income families, think condoms are the only way to prevent pregnancy because abstinence is not taught in their sex-ed classes, you’re going to end up with teenage mothers.

    And that’s why Obama’s abortion policy doesn’t jive with his father’s day rhetoric. I wish it did, because it was good rhetoric.

    About the guns: “bad” people will find ways to get guns. Increasing gun control will only take guns away from law-abiding citizens. But if law-abiding citizens are armed, nobody can go into a university and shoot up entire classrooms, because somebody else will take him down first.

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