Campaign for American Values, “New Morning”

  • Ad Title: “New Morning”
  • Ad Sponsor: Campaign for American Values PAC
  • Issue of Focus: President Obama and gay marriage
  • Type of Advertisement: Negative
  • Broadcast Locations: Iowa, North Carolina and Ohio, also circulated online
  • Release Date: August 27, 2012
  • Length: 30 seconds
  • Web Address(es):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oye4rhUa2Fk&feature=youtu.be

http://www.cfavpac.com/a-new-morning/

“New Morning” Transcript

(Transcribed by Thomas McCloskey)

A woman leans of a kitchen counter, reading a newspaper and looking distressed. A man approaches, carrying a cup of coffee. 

Man:Hey honey. How are ya’?

He sets the coffee down on the counter. 

Woman: Fine, I guess.

Man: What’s goin’ on?

Woman: Well, Obama’s trying to force gay marriage on this country. She stands up straight and turns to face the man. That’s not the change I voted for. Marriage is between a man and a woman.

Man: That’s not the change I voted for either.

Woman: What can we do?

Upbeat music starts playing. 

Man: We can vote for someone with values!

The camera cuts to the man and woman sitting on a couch with three young children. The words VOTE ROMNEY/RYAN appear in big, bold letters in the center of the screen. Along the bottom of the page, the words PAID FOR BY CAMPAIGN FOR AMERICAN VALUES PAC WWW.CFAVPAC.COM AND NOT AUTHORIZED BY ANY CANDIDATE OR CANDIDATE’S COMMITTEE

Voiceover: Campaign for American Values PAC is responsible for the content of this advertising.

Analysis of “New Morning” 

Thomas McCloskey, University of Maryland 

“New Morning” Context 

President Barack Obama’s views on civil rights for gay and lesbian Americans have been, in his words, evolving (Stolberg). As a State Senator in Illinois in 1996, Obama supported same sex marriage rights (Ford). However, when he ran for President twelve years later, his stance was that he was personally opposed to same sex marriage but was also against ending its practice in states that had already legalized it (Dschabner). Once elected, Obama opted for a slower congressional repeal of the anti-gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for the United States military instead of simply stopping its enforcement as some gay rights advocates urged him to do (Alan). In February 2011, Obama directed the Department of Justice to stop defending in court the federal ban on same sex marriage rights, the “Defense of Marriage Act” in court (Huffington Post). Although House Republicans would later continue the legal battle for DOMA, Obama’s statements that the law was unconstitutional signaled to many in the gay rights movement that he was finally willing to publicly endorse marriage rights for same sex couples. Those suspicions were proven correct when, in May 2012, Obama stated in an interview that he personally believed that gay and lesbian couples should have the right to marry, though he stopped short of promising any specific policy action that would guarantee those rights under law (Shapiro). At its 2012 convention that nominated Barack Obama for a second term, the Democratic Party adopted in their official platform an endorsement of same sex marriage rights (Stein).

Obama’s opponent in the 2012 general election, Governor Mitt Romney, also has an evolving position on rights for gays and lesbians. When running for the Massachusetts Senate in 1994, Romney claimed he would be better for gay rights than Senator Edward Kennedy.

In 2003, less than a year into Mitt Romney’s term as Massachusetts Governor, the state Supreme Court ruled that same sex couples had the legal right to marry under that state’s constitution. “Romney had vowed while running in Massachusetts to defend and expand the rights of gays and lesbians…but soon he devoted his attention to trying to block the ruling.” (Gold, Mason). Romney’s steadfast opposition to same sex marriage in his state helped improve his conservative credentials before his 2008 presidential run. After losing to Senator John McCain in 2008, Romney regrouped and was able to capture the 2012 GOP nomination after a lengthy primary battle with candidates who were arguably more socially conservative, like Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann and Senator Rick Santorum. For his Vice Presidential nominee, Romney chose Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who “is the most conservative Republican member of Congress to be picked for the vice-presidential slot since at least 1900” (Silver). During the 2012 campaign, both Romney and Ryan have expressed unequivocal opposition to same-sex marriage.

“New Morning” Background and Assumptions

On August 27th, less than a week before the Democratic Party adopted its platform on marriage rights for same-sex couples, the political action committee “Campaign for American Values” (CFAV) released a commercial advertisement on YouTube and its own website called “New Morning.” The organization’s website does not provide any information about the specific individuals serving in leadership positions at the PAC, or who may be responsible for the content of the “New Morning” advertisement. Federal Elections Commission reports indicate that 18 individuals have donated to CFAV since it was founded in late 2011. Almost two-thirds of the $900,000 CFAV has raised was donated by the “Corporate Land Management” Corporation based in Irving, Texas, though no information is provided about who works at the corporation or what their motivations might be for funding the PAC. Mother Jones reported that CFAV “is headed by former Family Research Council president and ex-Reagan official Gary Bauer” and funded, through “Corporate Land Management,” by evangelical advocate Tim Horner (Serwer). All of the PAC’s funds have been spent producing videos and airing them in swing state media markets in support of Mitt Romney’s candidacy for President (Sunlight Foundation).

CFAV’s website, http://www.cfavpac.com, offers only a simple banner which reads, “Fighting to Protect and Defend Your Values-Based Way-of-Life.” Below the banner, the only other text on the page is a short message: “These are the kinds of ads we are running in Iowa and Ohio to expose Obama’s radicalism on values issues! Soon we will begin airing more ads like these in other key battleground states.” The ads the message refers to are, in addition to “New Morning,” three other videos called “Religious Liberty,” “The God Vote,” and “Faith in the Public Square: Obama v. Romney.” These CFAV’s commercials have two similar, corresponding assumptions: America was founded on, and is sustained by, religious values, and President Obama threatens that foundation in various ways. This overarching conservative political and ideological slant of CFAV’s commercials indicates that the “New Morning” ad functions as a criticism of President Obama and a reaffirmation of religious values. Thus, the ad constructs social commentary criticizing Obama and encouraging people to vote for the Romney/Ryan ticket on Election Day.

“New Morning” Analysis

The advertisement makes three major rhetorical moves. It establishes a mythic ideal of American values, argues that President Obama threatens those values, and suggests that voting for the Romney/Ryan ticket will reaffirm and protect those constructions. These themes are examined in the following section through the various communication strategies deployed in the advertisement.

1) The advertisement constructs a mythic ideal of American values.

What these ideal values are and what they represent for the audience are somewhat vague in their construction, with the advertisement suggesting, rather than stating, much of their claim. However, a closer examination of the advertisement can explicate these characteristics and arrive at a better understanding of what an ideal America looks like for CFAV. “New Morning” uses visual and aural rhetorical strategies to construct this mythic ideal of American values based in religious freedom.

Throughout the advertisement, visual rhetoric is used to articulate an image of CFAV’s ideal American value structure. The setting of the commercial offers an initial clue as to what this mythic ideal is. Taking place in a spotless, white and brightly lit kitchen, the commercial appears to be set in a suburban home. Behind the female character at the beginning of the ad, the audience can see a green lawn and lots of trees in a quiet neighborhood out the window. Tupperware containers filled with cereal, spices and pasta are on the kitchen counter, along with apples and bananas. The sun shines brightly on a small plant on the windowsill above the kitchen sink. Both characters are nicely dressed in casual attire. Early in the advertisement, the man sets a cup of coffee down in front on the counter in front of the woman. Later in the commercial, a large plant and a bookshelf are visible behind her in what appears to be the family’s living room. At the end of the advertisement, the man and woman, along with three children, sit together in a living room and appear to be smiling. Visually, the advertisement refers to common tropes of traditional family life. A man and a woman, along with their children, happily live together in a suburban home.

All of these images are wholesome and innocuous as the entire family dynamic is depicted in nice and comforting ways. This visual construction operates strategically for CFAV in that “many religious appeals draw on coded themes and images that do not alienate secular voting blocs, but nonetheless resonate with religious voters” (Weber & Thorton 401). By constructing a visually appealing family dynamic, the advertisement can imply its ultimate argument—these family values are good and also under fire from Obama—before it is actually articulated. This visual rhetoric conveys the first premise of the advertisement: family is good. Thus, from a visual rhetorical standpoint, this commercial suggests that the values of family and traditionalism should be promoted.

Aural communication strategies in the advertisement, including the music and the spoken words of the characters, reinforce this traditionalist message. For the first 15 seconds of the commercial, a slow, simple life of a suburban family is constructed. For a majority of the advertisement, the music is a slow piano score that implies a typical quiet morning. The familiarity between the couple is immediately apparent. Initially, the man asks, “Hey honey, how are ya’?” with a casualness suggesting that the two are married. This is consistent with the visual rhetorical values of traditionalism and family. Later in the advertisement, the woman directly states to her presumed husband, “Marriage is between a man and a woman.” Having established, through visual and aural messages, that the heterosexual marriage between the characters is a good and happy one, the advertisement suggests that unions between “a man and a woman” are to be valued. The extension of this value construction of family and traditionalism is to point out their counter-values and biggest perceived threat.

2) The advertisement suggests President Obama is a threat to American values.

Having rhetorically constructed the values of family and traditionalism, “New Morning” next moves to argue that President Obama threatens those values. This is done through multiple aural messages. Initially, the woman directly states, “Obama’s trying to force gay marriage on this country…that’s not the change I voted for.” The husband ads, “That’s not the change I voted for, either.” Both of these statements convey the argument that President Obama, in his support of same-sex marriage rights, is doing something that is not what his supporters want. By stating that gay marriage is being “forced” on the country, the woman implies that Americans do not want marriage equality and would not pursue it of their own free will. This rhetorically constructs Obama as an aggressive bully who is pursuing policies people do not want. Moreover, by repeatedly stating that gay marriage is “not the change” they voted for, CFAV’s advertisement suggests that not only is Obama a bully, he is also a liar who misled voters with his initial reserved statements about same-sex marriage. These aural messages place Obama squarely opposed to mythical American values. Having constructed a rhetorical ideal—the values of family and traditionalism—and a rhetorical enemy—Obama—CFAV’s next rhetorical move is to offer the audience a solution to combat what they have framed as a troubling trend.

3) The advertisement reaffirms American values through Romney/Ryan.

CFAV’s commercial quickly moves to frame the Romney/Ryan ticket as the rhetorical—and electoral—salvation for audience members seeking to oppose the change the advertisement argues Obama is forcing upon the country. This construction takes interconnected aural and visual rhetorical forms. In response to the woman’s concerned “What can we do?” question about how to handle the gay marriage Obama is forcing on the country, the man emphatically responds, “We can vote for someone with values.” At the word “values,” the music immediately changes from the slow piano score to faster and more upbeat sounding tone. Simultaneously, the previously mentioned image of the family siting on the couch appears in the background, as “VOTE ROMNEY/RYAN” emerges in focus and in the middle of screen. Such a shift in the commercial from slow music and two people alone to happier music and a family together, under a “ROMNEY/RYAN” banner, demonstrates the rhetorical strategy of the commercial. The advertisement suggests that Romney and Ryan should be viewed as promoting the established values of family and traditionalism. Since  “imagery and coded language in political messages shape how political issues and candidates are considered” (Weber & Thorton 402), the goal of the message appears to be to link these positive visual and aural rhetorical values with 2012 GOP ticket.

“New Morning” Response and Commentary

The advertisement was not widely consumed online, having been viewed only 625,000 times on YouTube. However, CFAV purchased numerous airtime slots in several battleground states beginning around the time of the Democratic National Convention last summer. Moreover, the CFAV website, and its spokesman Gary Bauer, claim that they will be spending all of their available cash on hand to air “New Morning,” and other CFAV commercials in major media markets in battleground states before the 2012 election, suggesting that at least some television viewers will soon see the commercial.

While this analysis suggests that “New Morning” has the potential to be persuasive for evangelical, religious voters, if the response to the CFAV commercial is any indication, those will be the only people it persuades. On the popular blog Jezebel, commenters ridiculed the perceived poor production value of the advertisement and describe the actors as awful (Barry). One commenter mocked the central thesis of the commercial: “Hi Honey…what’s wrong? Oh, I’m just concerned that Obama supports something that is none of my business and has zero impact on my life, but makes me feel icky, so I want to stop it. Ugh. I can’t even with these people” (Nefler). Virtually all of the comments on other sites which blogged about the advertisement, including Daily Kos, The Advocate, Mother Jones, The New York Observer, Huffington Post and Politicker, among others, echoed this sentiment. Others questioned the logic behind the “That’s not the change I voted for” line, wondering why anyone would be surprised by Obama’s endorsement of gay rights given his earlier statements on the issue. In sum, although it is impossible to know the consensus response to “New Morning,” a sampling of the available commentary suggests that at least for some viewers, the commercial was not persuasive.

CFAV’s advertisement rhetorically constructs the values of family and traditionalism and argues that Obama threatens them, before suggesting that voting for the Romney/Ryan ticket can help preserve these beliefs. While this emphasis on values was persuasive for some religious voters in 2004, the political climate appears to have shifted in the last eight years. Pro-gay marriage referendums in Washington State, Maine and Maryland have small leads in the polls in the weeks before the election (Mahtesian). However, regardless of the outcome for those specific laws, it is clear that the narrowly constructed values of family and traditionalism in “New Morning” are evolving constructions that will likely have limited persuasiveness in the future. Although “New Morning” might be appealing to an increasingly shrinking demographic, that could matter less if CFAV has a seemingly bottomless campaign war chest to make and air these advertisements. The 2012 presidential election is the first since the landmark Citizen’s United Supreme Court case that allowed for essentially unlimited and anonymous campaign contributions from groups like CFAV. Because of super PAC spending, the 2012 campaign has been the most expensive race in history (Avlon), suggesting that if campaign finance laws no longer deter the production of ads directed at a narrow demographic, commercials like “New Morning” could remain a consistent feature of American political rhetoric for years to come.

References

Alan, R. (2011: September 24). President Obama: Order the Pentagon to stop DADT enforcement! Change.org. Retrieved from http://www.change.org/petitions/president-obama-order-the-pentagon-to-stop-dadt-enforcement

Avlon, J. (2012: September 17). The Super PAC Economy: 2012 is the Most Expensive Election Ever. CNN. Retrieved from http://outfront.blogs.cnn.com/2012/09/17/the-super-pac-economy-2012-is-the-most-expensive-election-ever/

Barry, D. (2012: September 4). Awful New SuperPAC Warns Against Gay Marriage, Not Maintaining a Secure Grainary. Jezebel. Retrieved from http://gawker.com/5940468/awful-new-superpac-warns-against-gay-marriage-not-maintaining-a-secure-grainary?tag=gay-marriage

Dschabner. (2008: November 2). Obama says he is against same sex marriage but also against ending its practice in California. ABC News. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2008/11/obama-on-mtv-i/

Ford, Z. (2011: June 22). Timeline: Tracking Barack Obama’s Position on Marriage Equality. Think Progress. Retrieved from http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2011/06/22/250931/timeline-barack-obama-marriage-equality/

Gold, M. & Mason, M. (2012: April 29). As Governor, Romney Faced Challenge on Gay Marriage. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from  http://articles.latimes.com/2012/apr/29/nation/la-na-romney-gay-marriage-20120430

Huffington Post. (2011: February 23). Obama: DOMA unconstitutional, DOJ should stop defending it in court. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/23/obama-doma-unconstitutional_n_827134.html

Mahtesian, C. (2012: October 19). Gay Marriage Polling Uncertain. Politico. Retrieved from http://www.politico.com/blogs/charlie-mahtesian/2012/10/gay-marriage-polling-uncertain-138977.html

Nefler, Phyllis. (2012: September 4). Hi Honey, What’s Wrong? Jezebel. Retrieved from http://gawker.com/5940468/awful-new-superpac-warns-against-gay-marriage-not-maintaining-a-secure-grainary?tag=gay-marriage&post=52412148

News One. (2012: May 10). Mitt Romney 1994: ‘I’ll be Better than Ted for Gay Rights!’ Retrieved from http://newsone.com/2006845/mitt-romney-gay-rights-bay-windows/

Shapiro, A. (2012: May 10). Obama Endorses Same-Sex Marriage. National Public Radio. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2012/05/10/152396814/obama-endorses-same-sex-marriage

Silver, N. (2012: August 11). A Risky Rationale Behind Romney’s Choice of Ryan. Fivethirtyeight.com Retrieved from http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/11/a-risky-rationale-behind-romneys-choice-of-ryan/

Serwer, A. (2012: September 10). Meet the Mystery Donor Backing Gary Bauer’s Anti-Gay Super PAC. Mother Jones. Retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/09/campaign-american-values-gary-bauer-corporate-land-management

Stein, S. (2012: September 3). Democratic Party Platform: Pro Gay-Marriage, Immigration Reform, Shots at Romney, Squishy on Guns. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/03/democratic-party-platform_n_1853120.html

Stolberg, S.G. (2011: June 18). Obama’s Views on Gay Marriage ‘Evolving.’ New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/19/us/politics/19marriage.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Sunlight Foundation (2012: October 21). Campaign for American Values PAC. Retrieved from http://reporting.sunlightfoundation.com/outside-spending/committee/campaign-for-american-values-pac/C00489617/

Weber, C. & Thorton, M. Courting Christians: How Political Candidates Prime Religious Considerations in Campaign Ads. The Journal of Politics 74 (2): 2012. 400-413.