Kathleen Parker

Conservatives insist, correctly, that culture matters. Many liberals think so, too, by the way. Why, some liberals even stay married their entire lives to the same person and raise children to do the same.

You want Ward Cleaver? Meet Barack Obama. Michelle is June Cleaver with a law degree. Family values don't get any more traditional than the Obamas, who ooze marital bliss and whose adorable daughters make feminist cynics want to bake cookies and learn to smock.

Though we may perish of boredom, the Obamas may do more to elevate the American family than all the pro-marriage initiatives conceived by those who claim to speak for the deity. As a family unit, they're not significantly different from the Bushes, but they can be an inspiration particularly to the African-American community.

Despite strides in some areas, the African-American community is the most damaged in our culture, in part because of misguided policies that have decimated the family. Aid to Families With Dependent Children, for instance, was predicated on no-man-in-the-house, sending fathers fleeing from home and parental responsibility.

Although other demographic groups are fast catching up, blacks today lead the out-of-wedlock birth rate -- about 70 percent.

Fallout from fatherless homes can be measured in poverty and crime rates. Justice Department figures (2002) show that among males ages 25-29, 12.9 percent of blacks were in prison or jail, compared to 4.3 percent of Hispanics and 1.6 percent of whites.

Bias undoubtedly plays a part in the imbalance (the crack/cocaine sentencing disparity is but one example). But the correlation between absent fathers and crime is well established by decades of social science.

The change we've been waiting for may not be immediately quantifiable, but personal responsibility, educational ambition and smart public diplomacy -- all by example rather than exhortation -- could go a long way toward curing what ails us.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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