early and often

Obama’s Tough Talk on African-American Fathers Wins Big Points With Pundits


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Barack Obama commemorated Father’s Day with a speech at a Chicago church (no, not that one) on the responsibilities of fatherhood, but unless Hallmark is forming a new “Tough Love and Shame” division, his remarks weren’t anything you’d put in a greeting card. Focusing mainly on the African-American community, Obama criticized “MIA” and “AWOL” fathers who “have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men.” He warned of being satisfied with a mediocre education, telling the predominately African-American congregation, in a Chris Rock–like moment, “Don’t get carried away with that eighth-grade graduation. You’re supposed to graduate from the eighth grade!” His message was met with enthusiastic approval by the audience — and, perhaps more to the point, had some conservative pundits saying “Amen.”

• Jeff Long and Christi Parsons write that “while his dogma is decidedly liberal, his talk about personal responsibility crafts an appeal to religious conservatives and political centrists,” and he has often chosen to “broadcast that message from black churches.” [Chicago Tribune]

• Joan Walsh was “very moved” by the “great speech,” which combined “an appeal for more government support for families with a message of personal responsibility.” [Salon]

• Matt Lewis called it “refreshing, helpful, and also politically sagacious,” and believes that “this is the Obama that would be hard to stop.” [Town Hall]

• Jonathan Martin thinks Obama used “some remarkable language about absentee dads that only he could deliver” in what was basically a kind of Sister Souljah moment. One passage in particular, which “stood out as a cut-to-the-bone, almost shaming challenge to African-Americans,” resulted in a standing ovation. [Politico]

• Kathryn Jean Lopez says talk is cheap: For all his talk on education Sunday, Obama could prove his leadership by saving a scholarship program for D.C. children that’s in danger of being killed. [National Review]

• Matthew Yglesias expects the speech to be “a pretty big hit politically” since it contained “certain conservativish resonances about the centrality of family conditions to our social problems.” [Atlantic]

• Julie Bosman writes that the speech was “striking for its bluntness and where he chose to give it.” Obama “laid out his case in stark terms that would be difficult for a white candidate to make” — while hoping it would hit a chord “among white social conservatives in a race where these voters may be up for grabs.” [NYT]

• Ben Smith calls the speech “the kind of cultural message that was key … to Bill Clinton’s success.” [Politico]

• Linda Chavez believes Obama “deserves credit for his speech,” which was, she hopes, more than “simply re-positioning for the general election,” as “Obama could play an important role in speaking about the absence of fathers in the black community given his personal history as a child abandoned by his own father.” [Contentions/Commentary]

• Dayo Olopade contends that Obama’s message wasn’t “a matter of dog-whistling for white customers,” nor was it a Sister Souljah moment. Obama’s “stance on strong families seems both good policy and a conviction rooted in the ‘object lesson’ of his own personal history.” [Plank/New Republic] —Dan Amira

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Obama’s Tough Talk on African-American Fathers Wins Big Points With Pundits