Obama on fatherhood and family

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's speech on Father's Day about the importance of fatherhood is drawing praise from some surprising quarters that the day-after stories struggled to pick-up on. The New York Times rightly focused on the impact the speech had on the African-American community, but this speech is having effects in other communities as well. Here is the NYT:

Accompanied by his wife, Michelle, and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, who sat in the front pew, Mr. Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, laid out his case in stark terms that would be difficult for a white candidate to make, telling the mostly black audience not to "just sit in the house watching 'SportsCenter,'" and to stop praising themselves for mediocre accomplishments.

"Don't get carried away with that eighth-grade graduation," he said, bringing many members of the congregation to their feet, applauding. "You're supposed to graduate from eighth grade."

His themes have also been sounded by the comedian Bill Cosby, who has stirred debate among black Americans by bluntly speaking about an epidemic of fatherlessness in African-American families while suggesting that some blacks use racism as a crutch to explain the lack of economic progress.

Mr. Obama did not take his Father's Day message to Trinity United Church of Christ, where he resigned as a member in May after a series of disputes over controversial remarks by the church's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Instead, he chose the 20,000-member Apostolic Church of God, a vast brick structure on the South Side near Lake Michigan. The church's pastor, Byron Brazier, is an Obama supporter.

Many religious conservatives, not necessarily tied to the African American community, have latched on to the speech's broader theme regarding the importance of fatherhood and the family. The NYT article correctly notes that this is not the first time Obama has spoken on this issue, which is part of the reason traditional conservatives were initially curious about Obama's candidacy.

The setting of the speech, a powerful church on Sunday morning, was appropriately noted, but there has been little coverage of the scripture Obama used to open his sermon speech. Here it is from the text:

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus closes by saying, "Whoever hears these words of mine, and does them, shall be likened to a wise man who built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock." [Matthew 7: 24-25] ...

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.

One news organization, The Politico, picked up on how Obama ended the speech, which tied directly into the opener:

"We try. We hope," he concluded. "We do what we can to build our house upon the sturdiest rock. And when the winds come, and the rains fall, and they beat upon that house, we keep faith that our Father will be there to guide us, and watch over us, and protect us, and lead His children through the darkest of storms into light of a better day. That is my prayer for all of us on this Father's Day, and that is my hope for this country in the years ahead. May God bless you and your children. Thank you."

Along with the setting of the speech (a church), the use of "the rock" as a religious symbolism to explain a policy position of the potential next president of the United States is significant. Obama is known for choosing the words of his speeches carefully and frequently changing phrases to fit what he believes represents himself. Was this one of them?

How much should reporters, if they covered this aspect, read into the use of "the rock" as a religious symbolism? Saint Peter is frequently referred to as "The Rock" upon which the Church of Jesus Christ would be built. Jesus is also frequently referred to as the "Rock of Salvation," or the "Rock of Ages."

In other words, has Obama picked up President Bush's style of using religious rhetoric to explain his policy positions? If this is the case, will it be as effective in drawing in voters who wouldn't otherwise identify with Obama?

Lastly, reporters should follow-up on the policy goals behind this speech. The NYT noted that Obama announced he would co-sponsor legislation with Indiana Senator Evan Bayh (huge Hillary Clinton support) intended to increase child support payment enforcement and domestic violence prevention. But is that all? What other positions held by Obama are influenced by this lofty goal of increasing the role of father's in the lives of this country's youth?

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