Don’t jump on board just yet, say conservatives who are skeptical about President Barack Obama’s initiative to reverse underachievement among young black and Hispanic males.
In announcing the program, called My Brother’s Keeper, last month, the president decried the absence of fathers among minority children, the resulting lag in education, and the subsequent high chances of being perpetrators or victims of violent crimes. The president said he, too, could have been a negative statistic, because of his own unfocused anger over having no father at home. He challenged communities to invest their time in minority men like his community did with him. “I had people who encouraged me,” he said.
My Brother’s Keeper has two parts. The first is a government-wide task force to evaluate the effectiveness of various approaches so federal and local governments, community groups, and businesses will have best practices to follow. It’s first report is due in 90 days, and an online “What Works” portal will provide public access to data about programs the task force says works.
The second part is a group of foundations and businesses that have pledged more than $200 million over five years. That money will fund organizations that are already doing well, infrastructure for spreading the task force’s findings, and new programs to improve education at certain life milestones and keep minority youth out of the criminal justice system.
Obama, often criticized by the right for his views on the role of government in society, said big government couldn’t succeed in this focused area. “In this effort,” Obama said, “government cannot play the only or even the primary role.” Government can provide preschool, “but we can't replace the power of a parent who's reading to that child.” Government can reform the criminal justice system, “but nothing keeps a young man out of trouble like a father who takes an active role in his son’s life,” the president said.
Conservative leaders say the hope for My Brother’s Keeper lies in the president’s example as a husband and father. “Bitter policy debates aside,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said, “the dad-in-chief has been, from the public’s perspective, a good role model where it counts—at home.” Only 28 percent of African Americans and 47 percent of Hispanics are born to married parents.
“No matter how much the community chips in,” Obama said, “it's ultimately going to be up to these young men.” The president spoke directly to young men present at the announcement, saying, “No excuses. … You have got responsibilities, too.”
Where conservative leaders urged caution, though, was in the details. There aren’t any yet. My Brother’s Keeper could become “Big Brother’s Keeper,” despite the limited-government message of Obama’s speech, Perkins said. “Focusing on minority kids could have a huge impact on American society—if the president realizes that marriage, life, and faith are essential ingredients,” he said. “While we support this as a priority, what we don't support are the president's actual policies, which undermine the family he speaks so highly of.”
Among My Brother’s Keeper supporters are many well-known, left-wing philanthropists, including George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“Given this administration’s history, the speech should fill us with caution,” the Heritage Foundation’s Mike Gonzalez wrote. “This president’s potential as a role model for married fatherhood sharpens our sense of disappointment at the absence of the call he could have issued.”