Beliefnet
God-O-Meter

obamafamily.jpgThere’s an emerging consensus among political types that Barack Obama, in order to solve his white working class problem and to blunt criticism that, despite his national unification rhetoric, is actually a doctrinaire liberal, needs to adopt a traditionally conservative idea that emphasizes personal responsibility over government solutions.
Beliefnet’s own Steve Waldman suggested as much in a recent Wall Street Journal online column:

[F]ormer President Bill Clinton appealed to them in 1992 with a different set of culturally conservative issues: welfare reform, anticrime legislation, and national service. When Mr. Clinton talked about national service, he didn’t just offer idealism, he offered toughness – i.e. people ought to give something back in exchange for their college loans. In the 1996 election, he came up with school uniforms and V-chips to help parents control bad TV. By contrast, neither Mr. Gore nor Mr. Kerry combined their traditional liberalism with high-profile culturally conservative issues.
Note that Sen. McCain does have some vulnerabilities among Catholics, including his support of Rev. John Hagee, who has made anti-Catholic comments over the years. Still, Sen. McCain’s war heroism gives him an inherent appeal among culturally conservative voters. Democrats will need to come up with this year’s version of welfare reform.
So far, neither Sen. Obama nor Sen. Clinton has done it.

Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page has a more specific proposal along those same lines: that Obama should adopt a family values mantle by pledging to tackle the epidemic of out-of-wedlock births and single-parent families. These are the same causes that Mitt Romney said his wife be devoted to as a first lady during his speech the Values Voters Summit last year. Here’s Page recommending Obama take a similar tack:

The rise of out-of-wedlock births is one the thorniest issues facing the black community today. But the issue reaches beyond race. Out-of-wedlock births have risen to almost 70 percent in black America, almost half of Hispanic births and more than a fourth of white births. In 1950, the rates for all three were about 10 percent.
Add in the high rates of divorce and other parental break-ups, and you have large numbers of American children growing up in single-parent households. Some 24 million children live apart from their fathers, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative. As Roland Warren, the initiative’s director, has said, “Kids have a hole in their soul the shape of their dad.”
Obama knows that feeling, as his first autobiography recounts. His parents were married, but his Kenyan father abandoned his mother while young Barack was very young. He was raised mostly by his mother’s parents.
In endless arguments, conservatives cite the welfare policies of “the nanny state.” Liberals point to the disappearance of jobs and other community resources that give families assistance. Obama has cited both. He also has introduced legislation to remove some of the government penalties on married families and crack down on men avoiding child support payments, among other reforms.
Yet, beyond occasional mentions of being raised by a single mom, Obama has not used his bully pulpit very much to couple government action with the promotion of marriage and other personal responsibility. That’s not easy to do without being accused of “blaming the victims” for their problems. But Obama could hardly find a more worthy topic for a national conversation or a better person to get it started.

God-o-Meter agrees that Obama would do well to adopt a culturally conservative idea or two for the general election. For all his God-talk and promises to work with traditional Democratic foes like religious conservatives, Obama has never explained how his faith would translate into a single culturally conservative position. That’s what many religious Catholics and evangelicals are looking for as proof that Obama’s faith is more than just a matter of talk and personal belief.


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