It was my impression that Bush’s constant repetition of the phrase “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time” in an effort to discredit Kerry during the debates would actually backfire, actually reinforcing Kerry’s message by repetition. So I’m glad to read Eric Bakovic’s LanguageLog post which makes exactly this point:
But was this strategy effective? According to George Lakoff, simply saying a word or phrase, whether you’re just quoting it or even flat-out denying it, does a good job of reinforcing the word or phrase itself — perhaps a better job than whatever it is that you’re really trying to communicate. As Lakoff put it in his recent interview on NOW with Bill Moyers: “It’s like Richard Nixon getting up there and saying, ‘I am not a crook,’ and people think of him as a crook.”
For the record, Bush repeated (some variation of) the phrase seven times.