Those are all examples of the use of symbols in political communications. Did they work? Of course they did. Like a charm. Do you believe TV news would have done a dry story about Republicans repealing obscure and outdated laws without the visual of them tearing out those pages? Would Bill Clinton have been as effective as a speaker without all of his "real people" examples? Would Leavitt have so quickly endeared himself to Utahns without the images of that John Deere tractor and his grandfather telling him that if you do what is "real and right" then things will work out?
In giving a speech, participating in a debate, writing a TV or radio spot or creating a direct mail piece, successful politicians use symbols effectively. People remember symbols. They remember stories that illustrate a point or a value or a priority. They remember how an issue impacts real people. In any political controversy, in any effort at political communications, smart leaders think, "What is the best symbol to use to deliver my message?"
Here's a true story: In another state, the state government shut down a day care center because of unsafe conditions. One TV crew arrived as an inspector was going through the center and he pointed out the safety problems. The story that night focused on the unsafe conditions, and the government was the hero. Another channel's TV crew arrived on the scene just as a young mother was attempting to drop off her child, only to find the center shut down. The woman was in tears because she had to get to work and had no alternative for her child, and she believed the center was safe. In that story, the government was a tyrant.
Same story. Much different symbols. Opposite results. Here's the lesson: If you don't pick the symbols, your opponent or the news media will. The news media almost always communicate through symbols, through real people whose lives illustrate the story. Editors always tell reporters: "Tell me how this issue impacts real people." So to frame issue as you desire, you need to use or suggest the symbols for the story.
In the current controversy over healthcare reform, what is the symbol? Is it a laid-off worker with a pre-existing condition who can no longer get medical insurance? Or is it a heartless bureaucrat who will be in charge of your health care? Obviously, which symbol is used and is best communicated will determine who wins the public opinion battle.
Whenever a controversy or issue arises, whenever there is an opportunity to communicate, a smart political leader asks: "What are the symbols?"