WASHINGTON (AP) – Democrat Barack Obama admonished black men who have "abandoned their responsibilities" to their children. Republican John McCain met with Iraq's foreign minister and hailed America's "enormous success" in the war.
The appearances fit the strategy each candidate has chosen to focus on as their head-to-head contest for the White House moved into its second week. Obama is paying special attention to social issues and the stumbling American economy, while McCain seeks to burnish his perceived strength in matters of national security and foreign policy.
Obama, who would be the first U.S. African-American president, spoke on the country's Father's Day on Sunday earnestly about absent fathers in remarks to the largely black congregation at the Apostolic Church of God near his South Side Chicago home. His wife and two daughters were in the pews.
Black fathers, he said, are "missing from too many lives and too many homes'' and needed to take an active role in raising their children. "They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it."
Obama routinely calls for parents to take a greater roll in raising their children. He sponsored legislation in Congress to provide more child support money to children by offering a tax credit for absent fathers who pay support, and to ensure more efficient support collection and penalties for fathers _ so-called deadbeat dads – who don't meet their obligations.
"Any fool can have a child. That doesn't make you a father," he said. "It's the courage to raise a child that makes you a father."
Against a backdrop of choir members in robin's egg blue robes, Obama said half of African-American children are now raised in single-parent homes.
"We can't simply write these problems off to past injustices," Obama said to applause. "Those injustices are real. There's a reason our families are in disrepair, and some of it has to do with a tragic history, but we can't keep using that as an excuse."
Obama's ties to the African-American religious community could become an issue as the campaign heats up and Republican operatives begin anticipated attacks on the Illinois senator's links to another Chicago church, the Trinity United Church of Christ.
Obama was a member there for 20 years but resigned earlier this month to distance himself further from its former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose incendiary sermon were a temporary setback to Obama's run for the Democratic nomination. Wright's videotaped remarks, some delivered years ago, surfaced on the Internet earlier this year and were played repeatedly on U.S. cable television outlets.
McCain, meanwhile, praised Hoshyar Zebari, the affable Iraqi foreign minister whom he met Sunday in Arlington, Virginia. The Iraqi official was in the U.S. hoping to smooth difficult negotiations on bilateral relations going forward, especially the future presence of American forces in Iraq.
The two sides are trying to forge an agreement that would define the U.S. military role now that Baghdad has said it will not seek a renewal in December of the United Nations mandate that has sanctioned the U.S. presence in Iraq.
Last week Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the talks on the status of U.S. troops were stalemated, but Zebari told CNN television on Sunday that was no longer the case. He did not elaborate.
After their meeting, McCain did not answer a question about whether he would promise indefinite protection to the Iraqi people.
"The situation on the ground is that we have made enormous success and the surge has worked," McCain said in response. "Senator Obama was wrong when he said it would fail."
McCain was referring to the dispatch of 30,000 additional American troops to Iraq last year, most of whom are now being withdrawn. McCain championed the additional troop deployment which has succeeded in tamping down violence that had brought the country to the brink of civil war.
Zebari said he also would speak with Obama during his visit to the U.S., but a day and time was not set. Obama, who opposed the war from its beginning more than five years ago, has vowed to remove American forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office.