05/20/2013WASHINGTON -- Just as the toughest young Republicans were suddenly engulfing him in criticism over everything from targeting conservative organizations on taxes to covering up the diplomatic tragedy in Benghazi, President Obama gave what must be one of the best speeches of his political life.
The speech came right smack at the beginning of Washington's commencement season, and the tale around town was that, even while everyone was expecting Obama to succeed dramatically in his second term, he already was riding for a fall. Yet, it was also "the" speech that most black American communities -- and virtually all white American communities -- had been begging for since his first inauguration.
Barack Hussein Obama gave a brilliant and emotional commencement address at Morehouse College, the all-male black liberal arts college in Atlanta, calling upon young black men to "transform the way we think about manhood" and urging them to take responsibility for their families and their communities.
The president's message to his racial colleagues across the country was blessedly clear and to-the-point. Speaking about the black young men who leave their children behind today, he said: "There but for the grace of God, go I -- I might be in their shoes. I might have been in prison. I might have been unemployed. I might not have been able to support a family -- and that motivates me."
He even went so far as to reflect upon his own father, the brilliant economist from Kenya who returned there after marrying Obama's mother and eventually died of alcoholism. Raised by a "heroic single mother," he told Morehouse graduates: "My whole life, I've tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father wasn't for my mother and me. I want to break that cycle -- where a father's not at home, where a father's not helping to raise that son and daughter. I want to be a better father, a better husband, a better man."
Here we have something unique, indeed, in the American presidency. We have had a president who had a child out of wedlock (Grover Cleveland, to whom the crowds would yell, "Ma, Ma, where's my pa?"); we have had presidents who obsessively chased every woman in sight (JFK and LBJ, though not alone, stand tall in this area); and we have had a few frontiersmen for whom there was never enough Mountain Dew.
But this is the first time a president has used his office to carve out a position that would raise the morals and perspectives of his race or ethnic group and, hopefully, halt the downward fall of the group. It is a presidential effort that any American or any race should enthusiastically encourage, for the data and the statistics on marriage, births and the family among the black community are devastating.
Studies show that approximately 80 percent of black births in America occur out of wedlock, compared to an also-high 40 percent of white births. In Chicago, 85 percent of the students in the city's public schools (where I and most of my friends went to school in the '50s) now live beneath the poverty level, and poverty is intimately connected with single-mother families.
Worst of all, untold numbers of these births have an additional quirk that is poison to the formation of prosperous, stable families. In more and more families in the African American community, every child is fathered by a different man -- and a different man who seldom, if ever, comes around again.
Some prejudiced white people will say, "Well, isn't that just true? You give black people some freedom, and this is what they do." Yet, this could not be LESS true.
After the Civil War, former slaves were so devoted to finding their families, cruelly divided by white slave masters, that they would walk hundreds, even thousands, of miles to reunite with their wives or husbands, their children or mothers or fathers.
President and Mrs. Obama deserve gratitude for trying to strengthen the black family in America. Without fathers, children do not experience an ethical concept of life. If we continue these divisions, our country will be cursed by a lack of moral harmony, one which we may never overcome.
(Georgie Anne Geyer has been a foreign correspondent and commentator on international affairs for more than 40 years. She can be reached at gigi_geyer(at)juno.com.)