Show off your holiday lights and you could win an iPad! Enter your photo by December 13. Winner will be selected by popular vote.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the Obama administration. The trifecta of scandals — Benghazi, the seizing of Associated Press phone call records and the inappropriate Internal Revenue Service scrutiny afforded conservative groups — has led to widespread criticism of the executive branch. And with good reason.
We expect an administration to do a better job of defending our ambassadors and diplomatic personnel overseas; we demand that the freedom of the press be respected. And let’s admit it: We’re all a little afraid of the IRS turning its attention our way. These are not dismissible trifles.
Granted we’ll never see Washington entirely scandal-free, but presidents who advocate expanded government ought to be particularly careful not to undermine confidence in their administration. When a conservative administration screws up, we conservatives can always say “see — that’s exactly why you don’t want government to get bigger.” When liberals run the show and things go awry, they have to say, “Pay no attention to errors or deceit in D.C.! Trust us with more power!”
But believe it or not, I come not to bury the president but to praise him. Lost in the scandalizing was what I consider one of the finer moments of Barack Obama’s presidency: his commencement speech at Morehouse College last weekend.
Morehouse is a historically African-American and all-male college near Atlanta with an impressive track record of successful graduates. Martin Luther King and Spike Lee went there; so did Herman Cain, though the president didn’t seem to mention that one.
It was a stirring speech. To a point, all commencement addresses are alike — congratulations, now go do something with your life — and this was no different. But what I was gratified to hear was President Obama repeat his firm stand for fatherhood, squarely challenging the Morehouse Men — and all Americans — to stand against the tide of absentee fathers in our society.
He admonished the graduates to “keep setting an example for what it means to be a man. . . . be the best father you can be to your children. Because nothing is more important.”
Then he personalized the issue in a powerful way. “I was raised by a heroic single mom [and] wonderful grandparents [who] made incredible sacrifices for me. But I sure wish I had had a father who was not only present, but involved.
“Didn’t know my dad. And so my whole life, I’ve tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father was not. . . . I want to break that cycle where a father is not at home, where a father is not helping to raise that son or daughter. I want to be a better father, a better husband, a better man.
“It’s hard work that demands your constant attention and frequent sacrifice. . . . Even now, I’m still practicing, I’m still learning, still getting corrected in terms of how to be a fine husband and a good father. But I will tell you this: Everything else is unfulfilled if we fail at family, if we fail at that responsibility.
“I know that when I am on my deathbed someday, I will not be thinking about any particular legislation I passed; I will not be thinking about a policy I promoted; I will not be thinking about the speech I gave. I will not be thinking about the Nobel Prize I received. I will be thinking about that walk I took with my daughters. I’ll be thinking about a lazy afternoon with my wife. I’ll be thinking about sitting around the dinner table and seeing them happy and healthy and knowing that they were loved. And I’ll be thinking about whether I did right by all of them.” Well spoken.
We can quibble with many of his other points, but this was overall what we need to hear from our leaders. Individual responsibility and basic morality can have greater impact than government programs. In fact, policies that have had the effect of subsidizing illegitimacy and disengagement from traditional morality contributed to the problems the president addressed.
We have a generation of men — well, males anyway, of all races and nationalities — who desperately need to hear this sort of message and see it modeled. This countercultural message — that fathers matter — has the potential to make a profound difference in our nation if it could take root.
I have my differences with the president, but I applaud him for taking this stand and for realizing that his main job, his top priority, is investing in the lives of his children. May many men follow his example.
Long is a Roanoke Times columnist and director of the Salem Museum.
Weather JournalWarmth next 2 days hits icy wall