Last month, Bill O’Reilly confronted President Obama on the state of marriage in the black family. The president answered last Thursday in a touching speech on the plight of minority young men.
“The stubborn fact is that the life chances of the average black or brown child in this country lag behind by almost every measure, and are worse for boys and young men.”
He also made some good cause-and-effect linkage: “We know that boys who grow up without a father are more likely to be poor, more likely to underperform in school.”
However, then he massively underestimated the plight of young men of color. “If you’re African-American, there’s about a one-in-two chance you grow up without a father in your house — one in two. If you’re Latino, you have about a one in four chance.”
He got this wrong: If you are African-American, there is only a one in six chance that you will grow up with your father and mother looking after you. In the president’s backyard in Washington, D.C., it’s one in 11, while in Wisconsin, it’s the worst — one in 14. Mr. Obama and his White House badly underestimate the extent of the trouble minority children are in.
However, he almost zeroed in on the solution — the one he would provide if he had a son: “If I had a son, on the day he was born, I would have felt the overwhelming sense of responsibility to do everything in my power to protect that amazing new life from this big world out there.”
That came tantalizingly close to the answer. He did say “we need to encourage fathers to stick around,” but that is a far cry from urging them to marry the mother of their child and take care of her so they can take care of the child together.
What he sees these children needing is not the marriage of their parents, but more mentoring and school programs.
In fairness, he did say, “We need to remove the barriers to marriage,” yet he enumerated none, though there are well-known and glaring ones present in the welfare system.
In the black community, the biggest barrier is that most children have not experienced marriage, because the overwhelming majority (83 percent) of black fathers and mothers are unwilling to become or remain married.
Among Hispanic parents, the figure is 60 percent. Among whites it is 45 percent, and among Asian-Americans, 36 percent.
During the past 10 years, about 4 million black children and close to 5 million Hispanic children were born out of wedlock. In the next 10 years, the young men the president is describing will themselves be guilty of visiting the same fatherlessness on their children.
Their boys will suffer most by dropping out of school, not going to college, and ending up unemployed. The girls at least have their mothers to guide them, and they do better than their brothers. Mentors are great, but mothers are greater.
Though marriage is the greatest “program” to end poverty, child abuse, child sexual abuse, school dropout, college failure, health problems, drug problems, depression, out-of-wedlock births to teenagers, reduce abortions, increase homeownership and savings, it has an inherent flaw.
We are embarrassed by it and consider the price too high: You have to love selflessly.
In one way, we don’t blame the president. Though he does call this situation a moral outrage, he doesn’t do so with much passion, maybe because marriage depends on love, and you don’t go to government for love. You go to it for justice.
Though it is the epitome of justice to a child that his parents love each other and stay married, it is a justice that rests on love. The biggest problem for black children is not that the president does not lead on marriage, but that not many of their pastors do.
Though blacks are the most church-attending ethnic group, too often too many of their pastors don’t teach what Christ taught on marriage and sex.
Can we instead expect Mr. Obama to become the nation’s chief black pastor? He calls for evaluation of the best programs for children, but it will do the country much greater good to call for an identification of the best black churches for marrying young couples and avoiding out-of-wedlock birth.
We know that when you remove marriage as a factor, there is virtually no difference between whites and blacks on graduation, employment and staying out of jail.
The president said what is happening to young minority boys is a national outrage, but he showed no outrage, and instead proposed tried and failed nonsolutions — more programs.
What a pity. The situation calls not only for a great speech, but for a great awakening, great pastors and even a great president.
Ken Blackwell, senior fellow for family empowerment at the Family Research Council, is a former mayor of Cincinnati. Pat Fagan is the director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute.