Today’s Guardian (Wednesday, July 16) is running a story on an interview the paper conducted with David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party. Cameron is echoing Obama’s comments in is Father’s Day speech about absent black fathers and the breakdown of the black family.
David Cameron joins the bitterly contested argument over family breakdown and race today by praising Barack Obama’s warning that too many black fathers have abandoned their responsibilities to their children.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Guardian, the Tory leader says that many black church leaders have expressed the same anxiety to him, and that it is time for a “responsibility revolution” to change patterns of behaviour.
Referring to Obama’s speech, in which the US Democratic presidential candidate warned that absent black fathers were behaving like teenagers and shirking their responsibilities to their children, Cameron said: “I think he’s absolutely right. I mean I think it’s a very brave thing to do. And it will have a huge influence that he has said it. I’ve had a number of meetings with black church leaders who make the same point. They are concerned about family breakdown and social breakdown, and want to see what I call a responsibility revolution take place.”
Is it really all that brave? It’s been said before by Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King, Jr. who also understood the barriers that contributed to the problem. BIll Cosby set off a firestom of controversy when he revisited the subject back in May 2004. At that time, Cosby was roundly criticized for his comments (NPR report here). But will Obama get the same treatment? The same professor who was critical of Cosby in the above NPR report, Michael Eric Dyson, was out again last month, writing a piece for Time magazine, in which he opines that Obama’s speech was “calculated to win over socially conservative whites who were turned off by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s tirades against persistent racism.” He goes on to say that:
But in his desire to appeal to such voters, Obama may have missed the balance that King maintained. Personal responsibility is a crucial, but only partial, answer to what ails black families. Huge unemployment, racist mortgage practices, weakened child-care support, stunted training programs for blue-collar workers who’ve been made obsolete by technology, and the gutting of early-childhood learning programs are all forces that must be combated. If we rightly expect more black fathers to stick around to raise their children, we’ve got to give them a greater opportunity to stay home.
To many, Obama seems to be declaring the civil rights battle over and by diminishing the complexity of the issue, seems to be echoing right wing commentators more than Jackson or King.
Even more interesting is a comment Cameron made about how he views the modern Conservative Party in the UK.
Cameron “appeals to the centre and left ‘to recognise that the modern Conservative party is on the brink of a very big and exciting argument that if you want to pursue progressive goals in Britain, whether it is greening the environment, tackling poverty, unlocking social mobility, there is a really good case to say that you can best achieve those by Conservative means.'”
MMMMM. Are Cameron and the Tories following Obama’s lead, or is it the other way around?
“Progressive goals achieved by Conservative means.” If that isn’t a blurring of the political lines…
Keep an eye on that phrase…because it probably describes a lot of what we’ve heard already from Obama and more of what we might be hearing from him in the future…