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Perception of Obama as Young Father Will Influence U.S. Image Here And Abroad

Sociologist says it almost certainly colored the election, too

Release Date: November 12, 2008

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Fatherhood may influence Barack Obama's domestic and foreign policies as president, says Sampson Lee Blair, a UB sociologist who studies marriage and the American family.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The presence of children in the White House will undoubtedly have an impact on the image of the U.S. currently held by its own citizens and by those in countries around the world, says Sampson Lee Blair, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo.

"People tend to perceive a parent, especially a parent of young children, as kind, nurturing, protective and possessed of a beneficent nature -- one that is pleasant and concerned about the well-being of others," says Blair, who studies marriage and the American family.

"Obama will not only be a young president, but a young father, and it will be assumed that his domestic and foreign policies will be colored by the effects they will have on his daughters."

Blair says most of us presume that parents, the most important socialization force in the lives of children, are keenly aware of their substantial influence on their sons and daughters. As guides, disciplinarians and role models, they often give considerable thought to how their choices and actions directly or indirectly will influence their kids.

Blair says that, given our understanding of this, the fact that he has young children may have sent more than a few votes Obama's way.

"As president, I would certainly expect to see Obama looking at the country, and the rest of the world, through the lens of fatherhood," Blair says.

"Understandably, most parents want to be able to help their children to have a better life than they had. Parents want their children to have both more and better quality education, they want their children to have a better job (though that may be difficult for the Obama girls to achieve!) and they want their children to live in a safe and peaceful world.

"Although virtually every parent aspires to give such things to their children," he says, "President Obama will be in a unique position to give these to not only his daughters, but to the entire generation of children that his daughters represent in his eyes.

"This is a very appealing and reassuring proposition for the public," Blair says. He has two daughters himself and says he found the idea of having a parent in the White House very appealing.

Blair notes that over the past decade, politicians have directed much of their attention and action toward appeasing the baby boom generation. This is quite understandable, he says, because the boomers do, in fact, make up a large portion of the voting population.

"Many of that generation are now either retired or rapidly approaching retirement, however," Blair points out. "With McCain the face -- literally -- of the Republican ticket, many voters may have thought his concerns would have a generational quality about them -- that perhaps the needs of the elderly population would be given greater attention than those of the younger generation."

He suggests that true or not, a McCain presidency may have been perceived as likely to direct money toward Medicare, rather than education.

"This generational divide is made evident by the fact that John McCain was born years before the baby boom began. Obama, born at its extreme end," Blair says, "grew up during the Cold War, during the Vietnam War, during the Watergate scandal and during the recession of the early 1980s. He has felt the effect of government policies on American children and adolescents and it has had consequences for his life and thought."

Blair is director of undergraduate studies in the UB Department of Sociology. His research and extensive publications focus on the sociology of the family, child and adolescent development, gender and ethnicity. He is former senior editor of Sociological Inquiry and served as an associate editor on the boards of Social Justice Research, Journal of Family Issues and Marriage & Family Review.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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