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Barack Obama on Fathers . . . and More

The Republicans/right apparently think they can beat Barack Obama by smearing him and his wife Michelle. In one smirking effort after another, they keep telling each other that the Obamas are "not like us," not American, not patriotic, not morally grounded. But when Americans listen to Obama himself, they’re hearing something quite different.

If Republicans think they can beat Barack Obama on "family values," they’d better watch Obama giving a suprise "Father’s Day" sermon yesterday.

Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it.

But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing – missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it. . . .

. . . 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.

Barack is not just following the written text posted on his website; listen/watch as he embellishes the text when talking about taking personal responsibility and single women as parents and setting expectations for our children and ourselves. How will the Republicans respond to this:

Still, I know the toll that being a single parent took on my mother – how she struggled at times to the pay bills; to give us the things that other kids had; to play all the roles that both parents are supposed to play. And I know the toll it took on me. So I resolved many years ago that it was my obligation to break the cycle – that if I could be anything in life, I would be a good father to my girls; that if I could give them anything, I would give them that rock – that foundation – on which to build their lives. And that would be the greatest gift I could offer.

Or this:

The second [third] thing we need to do as fathers is pass along the value of empathy to our children. Not sympathy, but empathy – the ability to stand in somebody else’s shoes; to look at the world through their eyes. Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in “us,” that we forget about our obligations to one another. There’s a culture in our society that says remembering these obligations is somehow soft – that we can’t show weakness, and so therefore we can’t show kindness. . . .

But our young boys and girls see that. They see when you are ignoring or mistreating your wife. They see when you are inconsiderate at home; or when you are distant; or when you are thinking only of yourself. And so it’s no surprise when we see that behavior in our schools or on our streets. That’s why we pass on the values of empathy and kindness to our children by living them. We need to show our kids that you’re not strong by putting other people down – you’re strong by lifting them up. That’s our responsibility as fathers.

It’s a fascinating speech, not simply for what he’s saying about and to "fathers" in a mostly African-American church on Chicago’s south side. He’s also responding forcefully to every hit on his character without ever saying so.

And think about the powerful messages he’s sending to all Americans, well beyond the African-American community:

— We can’t be led by adolescent attitudes and behavior; we need adults. When he ad libs, "any fool can be a father" it can also translate to "any fool can start a war." But an adult first thinks about consequences and takes responsibility for his/her actions.

— He directly addresses women, particularly single women with children, who are carrying a heavy load: "You need help." We (men/our nation) have an obligation to address their needs.

— Bullying is not strength; it hurts our communities; it has harmed our nation’s reputation and security.

— Empathy towards the plight of others is a virtue, not a weakness. So it’s an acceptable moral foundation for public policy.

— And we shouldn’t settle for mediocrity; why not strive for excellence? We don’t have to settle for an educational system that just get us on average through the 8th grade. And by the way, we sure don’t have to settle for another D-, frat-boy President.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley