Wendy Davis for Governor, “Court”

  • Title: “Court”
  • Sponsor: Wendy Davis for Governor, Inc.
  • Issue of Focus: Education Policy
  • Type of Advertisement: Mixed (portrays Abbott negatively and Davis positively)
  • Broadcast Location: Texas
  • Release Date: September 4, 2014
  • Length: 30-second spot
  • Web Address:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0c-NX8Pu1k4

Transcript of Ad

“In the Texas courtroom, Greg Abbott made the case against our children. He fought for 5 billion dollars in cuts to education made by his insider buddies. And now, Abbott’s proposing giving standardized tests to four year olds. Heard enough? Wendy Davis. She’ll reduce the number of standardized tests our kids take across the board. She’ll cut bureaucratic waste, and Davis will use education to build an economy for all hardworking Texans. You decide. Who’ll be best for Texas?”

Analysis of “Court”

Julia Medhurst, University of Maryland

Context

The 2014 Texas gubernatorial election marks the first time since the days of Ann Richards that a woman has been nominated for the highest seat in the state by a major party. The energy behind Democratic candidate and state senator Wendy Davis is electrifying the Texas Left. Davis gained statewide and national prominence just over a year ago when she completed an 11 hour filibuster in attempt to halt the passage of Senate Bill 5, which bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Even though abortion politics catapulted her to fame, Davis’ main mission is to reform Texas education. Davis’ challenger, Republican nominee Greg Abbott, comes to the election with 12 years of experience as the Attorney General of Texas and 6 years of experience as a member of the Texas Supreme Court. A strong supporter of incumbent Governor Rick Perry, Abbot markets himself as a “defender of the Constitution, protector of our rights, and vocal conservative who stands on the foundation of law.”[1] Abbott is the first wheelchair-bound gubernatorial nominee in the state.

Analysis

Wendy Davis titles her campaign ad, “Court,” which positions challenger Greg Abbott as an opponent of public education in Texas schools, especially with regard to school-aged children. To achieve this rhetorical aim, the ad juxtaposes the educational values of Texas against the political values of Greg Abbott, manipulates the camera to evoke audience sympathy, and targets elite white voters with its use of a young white girl to personify the issue.

The first maneuver of the ad is the verbal and literal juxtaposition of Abbott to the cause of Texas education. The ad begins with a voiceover telling the audience that as a lawyer and judge, Abbott has sided against Texas children. We hear these words as the screen displays a darkened photo of an empty Texas courtroom, suggesting that something ominous has happened there. Superimposed over the photo, we see the words “Abbott vs. Education.” Here, the theme of the ad is displayed: Abbott is the plaintiff in a case against education; he is suing the defendant, the Texas education system and its participants. The juxtaposition of Abbott to the cause of education is achieved visually with direct reference to language by positioning Abbott’s name as the challenger in the rhetorical “case” at hand. We see this direct comparison in the caption, “Abbot vs. Education,” that appears on the screen. The placement of these words encourages the audience to form unfavorable judgments about Abbott’s education policies.

The camera movement in the third frame of the ad furthers Abbott’s opposition to the success of Texas public education. In it, we see a small, fair-skinned girl sitting uncomfortably in a schoolroom desk that is far too big for her. The voiceover proclaims that “now, Abbott’s proposing giving standardized tests to four year olds.” As the voice speaks, the camera angle shifts from an adult’s perspective (starting above the child’s head), and slowly moves down to the girl’s eye level. The camera’s perspective allows the viewer to feel what the child feels, to see what it is like to be too small for an adolescent-sized desk, and to understand what it is to be too young for a standardized test. Daniel Frampton contends that such camera movement can evoke feelings of empathy in viewers.[2] So as the voiceover and images coincide, we come to understand that Abbott is no friend of public education in Texas, and certainly no friend to the tiny girl in the desk.

The selection of a Caucasian female in the child’s role of the third frame also carries weight in making the ad’s argument. To understand how these factors matter, let’s take a brief survey of public education funding and outcomes in the state of Texas. Public funding for Texas schools rests largely on the financial contributions of local communities. According to the Financial Allocation Study for Texas (FAST), 35.6 percent of financial support comes from local taxes and14.2 percent from local bonds and sale of real property.[3] These figures together constitute the largest source of income for Texas public schools, even larger than direct state funding. The effect of this policy is that schools are better funded when they are located in wealthy districts. Better funded schools, of course, are linked often to greater educational outcomes.[4]

What do these figures have to do with the selection of a Caucasian female to act in this ad? In Texas, the wealthiest districts tend to be among the least racially diverse. As a member of the privileged class, the Caucasian student is not thought to be in peril when ill-fated educational policies abound. So the decision to visually position the Caucasian student in the seat that is too big for her (the danger seat), asks wealthier, whiter audience members (the majority of the Texas voting population) to envision their own children as the direct “beneficiaries” of Abbott’s failed education proposals. So we see that Abbott opposes not only the success of Texas public education broadly, but its success even in the wealthiest of districts. That the child is a female also adds to the scare-tactic function of the ad. Girls now achieve academically at higher rates than their male counterparts, so showing the victim of Abbott’s policies as being not only white, but female, further intensifies the message of his opposition to public education’s success in Texas.

Notes

[1] “Greg Abbott,” Abbott for Governor, 2014.

[2] Frampton, Daniel. Filmosophy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

[3] “Public Education Funding in Texas,” Financial Allocation Study for Texas, 2014.

[4] Wood, B. Dan, and Nick A. Theobald. 2003. “Political Responsiveness and Equity in Public Education Finance.” Journal of Politics 65, no. 3: 718-738. Academic Search Premier, EBSCO host (accessed October 8, 2014)