President Obama has several stated ambitions for his presidency. He wants it to be "transformative." He wants to unite Americans of all parties. He wants to build an economy from the middle class out (whatever that means), and he wants to help what you might call the domestic refugees of America's economic transformation.
Given the principled disagreements dividing left and right in America, it's hard to see how he can accomplish these goals when it comes to conventional economic policy.
But there is one area where Obama could be transformative and bipartisan while helping both the middle class and the poor. He could show some leadership on the state of the black family, and the American family in general.
The thought came to me when a friend pointed me to a column by the Washington Post's Courtland Milloy about how blacks are fleeing baseball at an alarming rate. Today, only 8 percent of the baseball players are black. In 1959, black participation was more than twice as high at 17 percent. In 1975, the high-water mark, the rate was 27 percent.
The reasons for the decline are many and controversial, but one cited by Milloy is that baseball is a game taught by fathers, while basketball and football are more often taught by peers in pickup games.
Gerald Hall Jr., the director of a youth baseball program in Washington, D.C., told Milloy: "If you did a survey, I believe you'd find that the one thing average and above-average players have in common is a father. Baseball is, at heart, a father-and-son sport. And if you're a kid that has nobody to throw to, nobody to talk to, nobody to discipline you in the way that baseball demands, you're not likely to play the game."
This struck me as more poignant than the usual bleak statistics about the black family. And they are bleak. About 70 percent of black kids are born out of wedlock. The out-of-wedlock birthrate for whites (29 percent) is now higher than what it was for blacks (24 percent) when Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued his (in)famous 1965 report, "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action."
Although it's certainly true that the kids of some single parents can do very well, particularly if those solo parents have the financial or social resources to carry the load (just look at Obama's own childhood), it is also the case that as a generalization, kids from single-parent homes do worse. In other words, it may be better to have one good parent than two bad parents, but it's indisputably better to have two good parents.