Swift Boat Watch: pH for America

See all Swift Boat Watch entries here .

Who They Are: pH For America

Purpose: To persuade Americans that Barack Obama is not a good Christian.

Director: Stephen Marks , opposition researcher and self-described “political hit man.”

Funding: Small donations

Cost of the Ad: Less than $1,000 to produce. The latest ad buy was $2,500.

Where It Ran: Starting Oct. 17 in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and Missouri.

Claims: Obama “insulted small-town Americans” when he said they are bitter and cling to guns and religion. He also “mocked and ridiculed” the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy and the Sermon on the Mount by taking passages “painfully out of context.” Obama “condescendingly” implied that Americans don’t read the Bible.


Accuracy: In an event in San Francisco, Obama did say that some Americans, such as small town Pennsylvanians, ” cling to guns and religion .”*

As for the Bible, the clips in the ad come from Obama’s 2006 ” Call to Renewal ” address, in which he responded to opponent Alan Keyes’ claim that Obama was not a true Christian. Obama did mock Biblical verses, but he was trying to prove his point that literal interpretation makes no sense. And the problem isn’t “context,” as the ad suggests. Leviticus creates a set of rules regarding slavery. ( Slave is used in some translations, and servant is used in others.) Deuteronomy suggests that a rebellious son be brought to the town’s elders to be stoned to death.


At the end of that same paragraph, Obama says, “Folks aren’t reading their bibles.” But it’s pretty clear that he’s not talking about the American people—he’s talking about Americans who interpret scripture literally.

Background: The pH in the group’s name stands for “political hit man.” This group clearly had the infamous Swift Boat ad of 2004 in mind when they created this ad: “ is hoping to become the ‘Swiftboat’$2 527 of 2008,” states the group’s Web site. Stephen Marks has created political ads in the past. The group’s videos (there are one-minute and two-minute versions), which have been on Youtube for months, garnered a direct response from the Obama campaign, which called Marks a “scam artist” and said the ad would never be aired on TV. The group bought time earlier this month in Michigan and Pennsylvania but pulled the ad after it became clear those states were leaning Democrat.


Swift Boat Rating:

Obama did mock Bible verses, but only the literal meaning of them. By suggesting that Obama is not a true Christian, the ad plays to people’s fears that he might be something else entirely. It’s this insinuation that earns the spot an extra boat (although apparently that’s what the ad’s makers want).

Correction, Oct. 16, 2008: This piece originally said that Barack Obama made his “guns and religion” statement in Pennsylvania.