Thank you, Jesse Jackson!
It's been a long time since the self-proclaimed black leader did anything useful, but Jackson has now &
quite unintentionally &
turned a bright spotlight on Barack Obama's traditional views of parenthood. With his crude remarks several days ago, Jackson raised public awareness of an aspect of Obama's beliefs that would have received little news media attention otherwise.
Apparently believing the microphone was off during a break on the set of "Fox Friends," Jackson whispered to health-insurance executive Dr. Reed Tuckson, who is black, that Obama was "talking down to black people. I wanna cut his n-ts off."
Since then, the news cycle has been filled not only with Jackson's apology, but also with commentary over what Obama said to provoke Jackson's outrage. Now, many more Americans have been exposed to Obama's completely conventional, commonsense beliefs that fathers should be actively involved in their children's lives and that parents ought to encourage educational excellence.
The presumptive Democratic nominee for president repeated his views on parental obligations &
to enthusiastic applause &
last week at a suburban Atlanta high school.
"I've talked about this before," he said, "and sometimes people don't like hearing it, so I'll repeat it, and I'll keep on repeating it: Men, fathers, you need to be in the life of your child." He urged parents to attend parent-teacher conferences, to help their children with homework and to "turn off the TV."
Obama had been even more pointed in his Father's Day address to the Apostolic Church of God on Chicago's South Side.
"Any fool can have a child &
that doesn't make you a father. Too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes. They've abandoned their responsibilities. They're acting like boys instead of men.
"And the foundations of our families have suffered because of it. ... There's a reason why our families are in disrepair, and some of it has to do with a tragic history, but we can't keep on using that as an excuse," he said.
While some no doubt see political calculation in Obama's remarks, he has, in fact, stressed parental responsibility for years. Because he spent his early adulthood as a community organizer on Chicago's South Side, where many children are trapped in impoverished single-parent homes, he is acutely aware of the problems caused by absent fathers.
Obama's childhood, too, was its own testimony. He reminded his audience at the Apostolic Church of God that his father virtually deserted the family when Obama was 2 years old.
"I know the toll it took on me not having a father in the house &
the hole in your heart when you don't have a male figure that can guide you. ... So I resolved many years ago that ... if I could do anything in life, I would be a good father to my children," he said.
Jackson's meltdown notwithstanding, Obama's tough love &
like Bill Cosby's &
is generally well-received by black audiences. Many black Americans have observed the decline of the family with alarm, just as many other Americans have. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the congregation at the Apostolic Church of God met Obama's remarks with "cheers of agreement."
Indeed, there was a time when Jackson would have given a similar sermon. In the 1980s and '90s, he often decried the growth of teen pregnancies and urged parents to get to know their children's teachers. But that was before Jackson was forced to acknowledge paternity of a baby girl born of an adulterous affair with a woman on the payroll of Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
After that, he no longer served as a suitable role model for discussions of fatherhood. (To be fair, Jackson has five adult children with his wife, Jacqueline, all of whom seem to be responsible and productive citizens. That includes U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., an Obama ally, who has sharply criticized his father's dumb remarks.)
Last week, at the Powder Springs, Georgia, rally, two black men sat near the back with little girls. As Obama urged black fathers to get involved in their children's lives, each of the men hoisted a little girl into his lap. They clapped enthusiastically as Obama spoke, with no apparent urge to do him bodily harm.
is the 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the opinion page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jackson's blunder shines light on important Obama position
Thank you, Jesse Jackson!