CHICAGO, June 15, 2008 -- In a stern Father's Day address, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., told an African-American congregation today that too many fathers -- including his own -- have failed their children.
"They've abandoned their responsibilities," said Obama, the putative Democratic nominee for president. "They're acting like boys instead of men, and the foundations of our families have suffered because of it. You and I know this is true, but nowhere is it more true than in the African-American community."
The Democratic presidential hopeful noted that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, making them five times more likely to live in poverty and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.
"Any fool can have a child," Obama said. "That doesn't make you a father. It's the courage to raise a child that makes you a father."
As significant as his message, was where he said it -- the Apostolic Church of God on Chicago's South Side.
It was Obama's first speech in a church since he left the Trinity United Church of Christ last month over the controversial statements made by its pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
With Obama just beginning his general election campaign against Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the speech marked an effort to reintroduce the candidate as a centrist voice of moral authority, a position that resonates, not just in the African-American community, but among voters at large.
"They're trying to create a new narrative -- they would argue the correct narrative -- putting him squarely in the mainstream, rather than defining him by the Rev. Wright or misinformation about his religion and upbringing," said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.
The speech's focus on responsibility in the black community was reminiscent of a similar talk by actor-comedian Bill Cosby, in which he said, "We are not parenting. ... We've got to take our neighborhoods back."
Cosby suffered a backlash after that remark, but some African-American Democrats said there likely will be a different reaction to Obama's speech, because he was not nearly as harsh as Cosby was.
It is a message Obama is uniquely positioned to deliver, said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons, and one he hopes will pay off in November.
"The message to mainstream America is, 'I share your values, I share your sentiments, I understand the problems that are happening here and the African-American community has to take some responsibility to fix them,'" Simmons said.