REPETITION | 2004-10-09

The presidential debates are a study in repetition.

That's boring. But the two people doing all this boring are in the biggest league on earth. There may just be a reason they use repetition.

The reason political campaigns are so boring is because repetition works.

Let me give you an example. The Carter Administration came up with a shrewd move. Instead of registering guns, they would register ammunition.

So, at the instigation of one of his staff who shall remain nameless, Congressman John Ashbrook called the spokesmen for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) before the House Subcommittee on Crime, of which he was ranking member, and asked them a question

"Is this a first step in the registration of firearms?"

They gave a long, learned answer full of references.

John Ashbrook replied with this, and only with this

"Is this a first step in the registration of firearms?"

The next answer was a bit shorter.

John Ashbrook then asked,

"Is this a first step in the registration of firearms?"

This happened six times.

Then Ashbrook said, "Okay, we've got your answer six times. Now we will put you under oath."

We got them under oath for the next questioning. Under oath means you commit perjury if you lie.

Their answers changed completely. Yes, obviously, this had been a trick to implement the first step in the registration of all private firearms.

Please note: If Ashbrook had changed his question one iota each time, those BATF officials would not have been put in such an impossible position. The fact that he asked exactly the same question over and over and over made it clearer and clearer what the question was. It also made it clearer and clearer what its answer was.

If he had varied the question at all, no one would have remembered it.

It worked.