On the White House website (www.whitehouse.gov) you can read, listen to or watch President Obama’s inaugural address. In the slug to the post, it says, “President Obama delivered his Inaugural Address, calling for a new era of responsibility.”
(Click here to listen to the excerpt.)
I’m a big believer in personal responsibility. Personal responsibility is the ultimate expression of freedom. In the 18th century, when large numbers of ordinary citizens were first given freehold tenure of land, and were freed from the dictates of the king or the emperor, and were relieved of the confiscation of the fruits of that land and permitted to retain or dispose of those fruits as they saw fit; when ordinary people assumed the free possession of the means of production, they concurrently assumed the personal responsibility to provide for themselves.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The American colonists went on to enshrine personal responsibility in a constitution that enumerates a very short list of powers retained by the government. The founders sought to severely limit government for the express purpose of expanding individual liberty. This revolution in governance was and is founded on a belief in the power of personal responsibility.
America’s ensuing history is a halo of glory. Never before in all of human history has prosperity been so widely dispersed. Never before in all of history has a society been able to so richly feed itself with so much left over to feed others. Never before in human history have the citizens of a society retained such a high level of discretion as to how to lead their own lives. We take our freedom for granted. But we shouldn’t. Our freedoms are revolutionary, they are unique in history and they are the product of our founding fathers’ belief in the personal responsibility of the individual above the collective responsibility of the institutions of government.
Personal responsibility, therefore, is not a new idea brought forth by the election of a new president. Personal responsibility is central to our founding. Still, President Obama promises a new era of personal responsibility and that’s fine. He is uniquely qualified to be its midwife. And he can do so without expanding the deficit, without raising taxes, without expanding the government and without passing a single piece of new legislation.
President Obama can usher in his new era of responsibility by calling upon young men to be fathers.
Poverty, dependence, addiction, crime, suicide, urban decay, academic failure, chronic unemployment and social unrest are the problems each new class of politicians promises to address. Absent these problems, I don’t know what they would talk about. Absent these problems, we almost don’t have any problems. And almost all of these societal pathologies can be traced to children raised without a father.
The strongest single predictor of whether a young man will end up in prison is that he was raised by a single mother. More than 70 percent of inmates serving long-term sentences come from single-mother homes. Nearly three quarters of teenaged births, high school dropouts and runaways spring from homes without a father.
If you control for single motherhood, the difference between black and white crime rates essentially disappears.
Children from single mother homes are anywhere from five times to 32 times more likely than their two-parent peers to commit suicide, drop out of school, become addicted, commit a violent crime, run away from home, die prematurely or wind up in prison.
And while this tragedy is visited disproportionately upon black children it is not exclusive to them. Children from wealthy white neighborhoods that grow up without an engaged father in the home display the same destructive patterns as children from poor black neighborhoods.
Imagine if instead of one third of all children and nearly three quarters of black children being fatherless, you dropped those rates to what prevailed in 1962. If you believe the statistics, more than two thirds of today’s delinquent young boys would be off the streets, nearly three quarters of today’s dropouts would remain in school, and more than 90 percent of today’s unwed teenaged girls would remain chaste.
Imagine the reduction in outlays for police, prisons, remedial education and welfare.
Barack Obama can begin reducing the huge and unsustainable societal costs we are all bearing by simply using his supreme oratorical gifts, the example of his own life and the prestige of his office to encourage a return to the ultimate practice of personal responsibility – the responsibility embodied in a man being a dad to his own children.
I can promise there will be no Republican opposition.