Symbols Speak Louder than Words

The heads of the Big Three automakers came to Washington this week armed with three solid talking points:

1) We’re the victims of a credit crunch;

2) We’ve really been working hard to fix our problems and build better cars;

3) If we don’t get help, the impact will be worse than the combined impact of every disaster film ever made. 

Unfortunately, all of those messages were drowned out by a single symbol—the fact that all three CEOs flew to the hearings by private jet rather than schlepping it to DC on a commercial flight.

The point is so beside the point. But, symbolically, it was a soundbite goldmine for lawmakers who packed their picks and shovels. Among the best, culled from Dana Milbank’s excellent column in this morning’s Washington Post, was this comment from New York’s Gary Ackerman:

“It’s almost like seeing a guy show up in the soup kitchen in high-hat and tuxedo.”

Makes me wonder what the hearings would have been like for financial industry execs, if they had been asked to defend themselves before receiving their billions. And, come to think of it, why weren’t they?