Dousing “Test of Fire”

Beating up on a political advertisement is a cheap way of looking smart. It is something I usually would not do. The reason I wrote this deconstruction in the first place was because someone wanted to know my personal opinion on this particular ad, and I’ve decided to repost my response for the sake of 1) I think I might of said something of sharable value and 2) it should be no secret that I think healthy politics are an important part of living a healthy public life, and the processes we take to get a candidate elected or a measure passed are as much an important question – if not more so – as the end result.

That said, here’s the 3-minute video, called “Test of Fire: Election 2012”. (There is an evangelical version of the same video, which uses pretty much changes the word “Catholic” for “Christian” and while it uses the same quotes, disguises the fact the speakers are Catholic.)

To start, I wouldn’t say this ad is by the Catholic Church [the e-mail I received asked for my opinion was titled “ad by the Catholic Church”]. The leadership of the group “Catholics Called to Witness” is not widely representative of the American Catholic church (three members, two of whom are married to each other; no priests or theologians, all Floridians). Belonging is different from official representation.

There is something of positive value to this ad. Besides its aesthetic merit and the fact that it a bit more substantial than the typical 3o-second sound byte, the strength of the ad is that it does highlight certain principles of contemporary Catholic social thought and sets them up as rallying points for the American Catholic community. People of faith should be able to express their faith at the voting booth, but sometimes need the sort of direction this ad provides on what that looks like.

But I think there are some significant flaws. First of all, I’m not a fan of language like “Your vote will affect the future and be recorded in eternity” (around 2:12 in the video). That raises unnecessary images of guilt and damnation which stifle alternate points of view.

Also, the words featured prominently at the beginning – “economy”, “jobs”, “taxes”, and “energy” – are irrelevant to the video’s explicit message of “life”, “marriage”, and “freedom”. By narrowly choosing only economic words instead of other important issues (for Catholics!) like “foreign policy” or “immigration” or “healthcare” or “environment”, the ad is blatantly highlighting the perceived weakness of President Obama versus Governor Romney in the 2012 election narrative. If an issues-based political campaign is going to endorse/oppose a candidate or their narrative, I personally believe the ad should be brave enough to come right out and say so.

But perhaps I hope for too much.


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