Texans for Greg Abbott, “Garage”

  • Ad Title: Garage
  • Ad Sponsor: Texans for Greg Abbott (PAC)
  • Issue of Focus: Abbott’s Character
  • Type of Advertisement: Candidate-focused
  • Broadcast Locations: Television Ad
  • Length: 30 seconds
  • Date Aired: Aired September 2, 2014
  • Web Address: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAuKRyQgvgU

Transcript of “Garage”
(Transcribed by Jaclyn Bruner)

Greg Abbott [voiceover]

(:01): “After my accident, I had to rebuild my strength. I would roll up an eight story parking garage, spending hours going up the ramps…

(:11): “…With each floor, it got harder and harder, but I wouldn’t quit. ‘Just one more,’ I’d tell myself. [slower] ‘Just one more.’”

Abbott (:20): “I see life that way. [pause] And it’s how I’ll govern Texas. To get to the top we must push ourselves to do [slower] just one more.”

Analysis of “Garage”

Jaclyn Bruner, University of Maryland

Context

As a contentious race for Texas governor heated up in late August, candidate Greg Abbott’s (R) campaign faced a legal (and political) battle. In the last week of August, Judge John Dietz ruled the state’s method of funding public schools unconstitutional, asserting that the legislature still had not met its obligations to Texas students.[1] Abbott’s opponent in the race, State Senator Wendy Davis (D), used this ruling to attack Abbott, suggesting that instead of taking action on behalf of Texans he was “actively working against them.”[2] Two other legal battles also surfaced during this time period. In one, the court stripped the new abortion law (that Davis filibustered in 2013) of its most restrictive qualities. The other legal battle concerned the state’s new Voter I.D. law.[3] This rapid string of events led one small town Texas newspaper to ask if it was just a bad week for Abbott or if momentum was shifting in Davis’ direction.[4] On August 30, Abbott withdrew from one of the two scheduled debates with Davis adding more fuel to the opposition’s fire.

The Abbott campaign released “Garage” in a move to emphasize Abbott’s character as a candidate instead of his acts as Attorney General. This 30-second television ad aired in various markets across the state in an attempt to shift the focus away from the recent legal and political controversies.[5] I argue that “Garage” can be read as askesis, the rhetorical move of remembering as a form of confession, which reinforces the ad’s overall focus on Abbott’s character. 

Content

Following a week that damaged his political image, “Garage” prominently features Abbott in his wheelchair, straining to propel himself up steep parking garage ramps. By visibly calling attention to his disability, this ad depicts Michel Foucault’s third trope of confession: “remembering.”  I argue that in addition to calling attention to his character of perseverance, the composition of this ad operates to elevate Abbott above the legal issues dragging down his campaign by remembering his accident for the audience. The ad features highly constructed images of determination and physical strength that can ultimately be read as both an appeal to the character of the candidate, as well as a disclosure of Abbott’s disability.

When Abbott entered the governor’s race in July 2013, the Associate Press reported that his campaign kickoff marked a “strange reality.”[6] Despite his twelve years as Texas Attorney General, many voters expressed surprise that they were unaware of his accident, paralysis, and use of a wheelchair. The AP confirms that Abbott “lives openly with his disability,” even while concluding that high-ranking disabled politicians are still rare. In “Garage,” nearly every image features Abbott rolling himself up a parking garage, an exercise (we learn through the narration) he undertook to rebuild his strength after his accident 20 years ago. Set to triumphant piano music, “Garage” reveals the physical effort it takes for Abbott to accomplish his task as he employs his own voice to inform the audience that “with each floor, it got harder and harder, but I wouldn’t quit.”

The visibility of the wheelchair marks a decided shift in the rhetorical presentation of Abbott as a political candidate. Historically, politicians’ disabilities were rarely made visible. One notable example of a constructed persona to mask the use of a wheelchair can be seen in the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.[7] Instead of keeping secrets as he has in the past, Abbott’s gubernatorial campaign violates this expectation to hide the wheelchair by making his disability the centerpiece of the ad.

This ad exhibits two functions that work in tandem to elevate the candidate above his recent legal (and political) issues. “Garage” depicts the first function as Abbott’s strong will, or a demonstration of his character. The audience watches the candidate exert the physical strength necessary to roll his wheelchair up a parking garage ramp. Emphasizing his commitment, Abbott’s narration imparts his personal philosophy, “‘Just one more,’ I’d tell myself. ‘Just one more.’ [pause] I see life that way… and that’s how I’ll govern Texas.” In the context of his accident and paralysis, the image of a visibly sweaty and winded Abbott appeals to his perseverance. The visual and verbal arguments of “Garage” also enact Foucault‘s third mode of confession, askesis, or an act of remembering. As a “mastery over oneself,” askesis does more than reveal a secret – as we might traditionally view the meaning of confession.[8] In fact, scholar Dave Tell explains this trope of confession as the freedom “to describe one’s body” in a manner “of one’s choosing.”[9] This form of confession exhibits the choice to share the past, so that it can be employed in the future.

Although Abbott served the public from his wheelchair for more than a decade, this ad provides space to remember his accident and disclose his disability in order to illustrate his commitment to moving forward – something missing from his other campaigns. “Garage” uses a variety of angles of Abbott in his wheelchair working to push himself up the parking garage ramps. As previously noted, although he has long-held statewide office, many voters didn’t know much about him, including his disability.[10] Thus, I argue that this shift to visibly constructing Abbott as disabled also functions as a “confession” of sorts that remembers the accident. Foucault determines that remembering is “a question of testing the preparation” for the tasks ahead.[11] When interpreted as the candidate remembering his efforts to overcome adverse circumstances, this ad functions as the remembrance mode of confession. As he narrates his climb, Abbott tells his audience “to get to the top we must push ourselves” no matter the obstacle. The depiction of the wheelchair, paired with the narration, serves to reaffirm his past abilities to overcome obstacles. As a confession, the ad’s composition directs attention to the future – particularly in the final shot sequence featuring Abbott atop the parking garage. This reassures the audience that his admission of disability – his act of remembering – emphasizes his trustworthiness in the future.

In this way, “Garage” functions as more than a concentration on Abbott’s character because it can also be read as Foucault’s concept of askesis, confession as remembering. By narrating his struggle and visually depicting his wheelchair, remembering the accident replaces the historically damaging admission of disability with an image of a candidate above the legal and political disputes that would otherwise plague his campaign. Voters can trust Abbott because he is a man of good character and he has chosen to confess circumstances that were previously unfamiliar to voters. “Garage” defies past political attempts to hide disability by confessing the past as a means of enhancing chara

Notes

[1] Chuck Lindell, “Judge: School Financing Unjust,” Austin-American Statesman, August 29, 2014, A1; and Marty Schladen, “Texas School Funding Again Declared Unconstitutional,” El Paso Times, August 28, 2014.

[2] Lindell, “Judge: School Financing Unjust.”

[3] Chuck Lindell, “Judge Guts Texas Abortion Law,” Austin-American Statesman, August 30, 2014, A1; and Erik Eckholm and Manny Fernandez, “Judge Rejects Texas Stricture on Abortions,” New York Times, August 30, 2014, A1.

[4] “Bad Week for Abbot?,” East Bernard Express, September 4, 2014.

[5] Patrick Svitek, “Abbott TV Ad Focuses on Recovery After Paralyzing Accident,” Houston Chronicle, September 2, 2014, (accessed October 21, 2014) http://blog.chron.com/texaspolitics/2014/09/new-abbott-tv-ad-focuses-on-recovery-after-paralyzing-accident/.

[6] Paul J. Weber, “Texas Attorney General Campaigns from Wheelchair,” Associated Press/Yahoo! News, July 23, 2013, (accessed October 21, 2014) http://news.yahoo.com/texas-attorney-general-campaigns-wheelchair-184804730.html.

[7] For further reading about this example see Davis W. Houck and Amos Kiewe, FDR’s Body Politics: The Rhetoric of Disability (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003), 17.

[8] Michel Foucault, Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, eds. Luther H. Martin, Huck Gutman and Patrick H. Hutton (Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 1988), 16-49. Accessible via http://foucault.info/documents/foucault.technologiesofself.en.html.

[9] Dave Tell, “Rhetoric and Power: An Inquiry into Foucault’s Critique of Confession,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 43 (2010), 111.

[10] Weber, “Texas Attorney General Campaigns.” See also, Christy Hoppe, “Greg Abbott Brings Staunch Conservatism, Toughness to Race for Governor, but Lacks Perry Bravado,” Dallas Morning News, July, 13, 2013, http://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/state-politics/20130713-greg-abbott-brings-staunch-conservatism-toughness-to-race-for-governor-but-lacks-perry-bravado.ece.

[11] Foucault, Technologies of the Self, section V, http://foucault.info/documents/foucault.technologiesofself.en.html.