Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday Reading

Do the Right Thing, Dads — Mine was always there when I needed him — and still is — but Leonard Pitts, Jr. says that a lot of fathers don’t always live up to the job.

This is the one hundredth commemoration of Father’s Day. You know what that means, don’t you?

Really nice ties.

And when father has finished admiring the ties, saying thank you for the socks and reading the cards, he might open the paper or turn on the TV news and there encounter something else that has become a staple of this day. Meaning the tender, uplifting profile of some heroic single dad raising his children alone.

The reporter will relay the tragic circumstance (divorce, death, abandonment) that left him in this situation and the camera will show him dressing the kids for school, combing the daughter’s hair, preparing dinner or doing some other chore more typically done by moms. The viewer or reader will be invited, tacitly or openly, to venerate this singular man.

Note that Mother’s Day will bring no corresponding report on the heroic single mom. This is a column about why.

There is, let us hasten to say, nothing dastardly about the disparity. The calculation seems to be that fathers don’t get much good press overall. Rather, the news where dads are concerned is usually about failure and abandonment, about statistics that say nearly one in four American kids grows up without a father in the home, and about studies documenting the dysfunctions we can expect as a result.

So Father’s Day becomes a day for news media to counterbalance that bleak picture with laurels and bouquets for fathers who are still doing the job: both as a way to remind us they are out there and to encourage men with evidence of their own necessity.

That impulse is honorable. As fatherhood becomes ever more shrunken in the public mind, as it is diminished until it is no bigger than a turkey baster or a child support check, it is good to be shown that there are still fathers for whom the role is larger than that.

For all that, though, this staple story of Father’s Day also reinforces a view of father’s role that is as ubiquitous as it is regrettable.

There is, after all, a reason no one does tender and uplifting Mother’s Day features on the heroic single mom raising her children alone. It’s because this is what she is supposed to do. What else is she going to do? Abandon her kids? Run out for milk one day and never return? Skip out from all maternal responsibilities?

Women — yes, there are exceptions but we are speaking generally here — don’t do that. They can’t, not if they ever expect to hold their heads up in polite society. We have great scorn for the mother who refuses to be a mom.

By contrast, we impose little or no social sanction from the father who declines to be dad. Consider former Rhode Island Gov. Bruce Sundlun and basketball icons Larry Bird and Julius Erving, whose public esteem was not appreciably affected by the news that they had daughters they had not acknowledged or even been involved with.

More after the fold.

Who Cares? Adam Nagourney on President Obama being panned by pundits

The tough reviews of Mr. Obama’s speech will probably have some impact on people’s perceptions. But history suggests that the final public verdict is often quite different from the instant analysis. In one memorable case, many pundits declared that Senator John McCain won the second presidential debate with Mr. Obama, an analysis that was soon discredited by the polls that asked Americans who had won.

In the environment of opinion overload, people are more likely to base their judgments on what they can actually see, said Stanley Greenberg, a Democratic pollster. Mr. Obama’s big Oval Office speech seemed a distant memory the very next day, when the president announced that he had forced BP to set up a $20 billion escrow account to cover losses from the spill. It seemed even more distant on Thursday, when Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, was forced to apologize for saying that BP had been subject to a $20 billion shakedown.

“I’m not impressed with the role of punditry in impacting public opinion,” Mr. Greenberg said. “I just don’t have any evidence of pundits driving it.”

Indeed, though pundits have taken Mr. Obama to task over the past month, his voter approval rating — a tangible measure of his standing with the public — barely changed, hovering around 50 percent, at least through the end of the week.

No wonder the White House didn’t seem overly flustered by the bad reaction.

“Elite opinion still matters, but the Beltway chattering class no longer has a monopoly on influencing public opinion,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director. “On any given day, a blogger, a local reporter or someone on Facebook or Twitter can be as influential.”

Doonesbury: go from basic to awesome!