Barack Obama: Address the decline of values

Having run as a Republican for Congress, it is unlikely that I will be invited to serve as a presidential speechwriter. But that shouldn’t stop me from suggesting the speech the president ought to give.

Obama waves during his second presidential inauguration 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Obama waves during his second presidential inauguration 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
What was most telling about President Barack Obama’s inaugural speech was not what he said but what he failed to say. He supported gay marriage but said nothing of shoring up the crumbling institution of heterosexual marriage. He spoke of the need to address gun violence but said nothing of gang youth in America who are raised mostly without fathers and perpetrate a large part of that violence. He spoke of women earning equal pay but declined to address the rot of values that reduces women in media offerings and advertising to little more than playthings, with women’s bodies being used to sell cars and beer.
Over four years a man who was raised without his father has been reluctant to address the out-of-wedlock birthrate that is 70 percent in the African-American community, 60% among Latinos and 40% among whites. This leaves so many women with the burden of raising their children alone. President Obama, a loving and devoted husband, has never once, to my knowledge, spoken of the 50% divorce rate that has ravaged American marital commitment. And a man who celebrates his Christianity has yet to call on all his fellow citizens to rediscover the spiritual bond that unites all of God’s children and to heed the call of service that is the obligation of every American.
My point is not to be critical. President Obama has a right to his agenda and there are many aspects of that agenda that I support. But what America needs more than anything else is a values renaissance that will shore up the rotting parts of our culture and in this regard President Obama, a man of considerable eloquence, has mostly been silent.
Having run as a Republican for Congress, it is unlikely that I will be invited to serve as a presidential speechwriter. But that shouldn’t stop me from suggesting the speech the president ought to give, and here it is:
My fellow Americans, on our streets kids who should be in junior high are mowing each other down with high-powered assault weapons. And I think we can all agree that they shouldn’t have access to guns and I therefore will propose strict new gun measures.
But even I understand that this is treating the symptom rather than the underlying cause.
In my book, Dreams of My Father, I speak of the pain of not having my dad around when I grew up. It’s something I’ve tried to correct by always being there, amid a hectic schedule, for my daughters, Sasha and Malia. But a father is not a luxury that should be the blessing of only certain families.
Men in families are not superfluous.
They are an absolute necessity.
When dads are not at home it’s often the police who have to raise these kids on the streets. And an absent dad puts an unfair strain on single moms – who are already heroes in our communities – to support and raise these kids by themselves, all while nursing the pain of loneliness.
Then you have all the marriages where a mom and dad pledged undying love to one another, had children, but then saw their relationship fragment and end in divorce, which today accounts for one in two marriages.
I know what that’s like. I was raised by a single mom after my own parents’ marriage ended in divorce. And I did not get the opportunity to grow up around my dad.
So I’m calling on all men in our society to shoulder the responsibility of raising their children. You are not a hero to the world unless you’re a hero first and foremost to your own children. And you are not a man of significance unless you make your children feel that they have infinite worth.
I believe in marriage equality for same-sex couples. But I also believe in the continuity of opposite-sex couples. And here in America, men and women in relationships are not faring all that well. I plan, therefore, to introduce stronger legislation that offers further financial incentives for couples to marry and stay married, and stiffer penalties to deadbeat dads who abandon their kids.
And speaking of kids, I am the proud father of two daughters. I want my girls to be raised in a country that values their minds more than their appearance, their productive capacity as much as their reproductive role. I therefore want women to be paid equally to men. But I also want to my daughters to grow up in a culture where they are respected and valued by men.
I am therefore calling on American corporations and media organizations to be sensitive to their depiction of women. When you highlight stick-thin women to our teenage girls, or supermodels to our women at home, you’re sending the message that a woman’s body is much more important than her intelligence.
Men are also affected by that depiction, and it gives us the kinds of problems I referred to above: men who are drawn to women for what they can provide sensually but not emotionally.
Which leads me to my finale. Unlike other nations, that were born of geography, America was born of an idea. As president Abraham Lincoln said, our country is based on the proposition that all men are created equal. We have fought long and hard to see the full realization of that proposition. Men and women have marched, fought and died so that they can be treated as equals in America. But the highest realization of that American ideal of equality is not found in material but in spiritual terms.
By equality we don’t mean that all people are the same height, the same color, or possessed of the same gifts. Rather, we mean that they are possessed of the same spark of the divine. That’s why Lincoln said that we were “created equal.” I call today for a new dawn of American soulfulness. Let’s together create a society where the gay man and the black woman, the Jewish boy and the Muslim girl, the stay-at-home mom and the professional woman, all find relevance in a nation that values their contribution and cannot prosper without their gifts.
I am calling today, therefore, for a mandatory year of national service, to commence upon graduation from high school, for every American man and woman, to both reverse the growing culture of narcissism and to teach us that America is a nation of givers and not takers.
The Author has just published his newest best-seller, The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. He is the founder of This World: The Values Network, which promotes universal values. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.