(google image citation: Horse And Bayonet Meme. Tumbler/horseandbayonet and enstarz.com)
Debate coach Todd Graham, commenting on CNN.com about President Obama’s “horses and bayonets” zinger of a line, calls it “the most memorable line of the night.” But Professor Graham also makes the good budget-hawk observation that it wasn’t just cute; Obama actually has a (substantive) point (emphasis added):
The question was posed to Romney on how he would pay for his proposed $2 trillion increase in military spending, and he flat out didn’t answer it. He was busy finishing his previous answer. So by the time it was the president’s turn, Obama actually said, “You should have answered the question.”
Obama then asserted that the United States spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined. That’s a great attention grabber. By the time Romney finally answered, he simply said we needed a stronger military, and the Navy needs more ships because it has fewer ships than it did in 1916.
But Obama countered with the most memorable line of the night. “We also have fewer horses and bayonets.” Obama’s debating point was that the nature of our military has changed. He continued by saying that the U.S. has things like submarines and aircraft carriers that should suffice, and reminded viewers that the nation needed to study what its threats are and put money into things like cybersecurity and space. Obama said that the military neither wants nor has asked for this extra $2 trillion.
This was terrible for Romney for three reasons. First, it was the original area of real disagreement, and Romney couldn’t afford to be bested. Second, no matter what he may actually know, Romney looked like a neophyte when it comes to military spending, as though he were repeating old Republican talking points. Viewers could be left unsure whether he knew what century this is.
And finally, it’s two freaking trillion dollars! They both talked about the budget deficit and the need to balance the budget, and over three debates, this — $2 trillion on military spending — was the biggest difference on offer. Axing Big Bird would net a President Romney next to nothing in savings, but adding $2 trillion to defense sounded excessive, especially if it’s true that the U.S. already spends more than the next 10 countries combined. Point Obama.
Whether the $2 trillion difference in defense spending is really the biggest difference in the candidates’ budget plans depends on how you combine the various pieces of their tax policy approaches (do you look at Romney’s proposal to cut tax rates separately from his base-broadening, revenue-raising “proposal”–or on net?), but the point that Big Bird is chump change compared with the defense spending issue is an important one. If it takes a cute line (”horses and bayonets”) to get people engaged and understanding that reducing the deficit is more than cutting “waste, fraud, and abuse”–or even foreign aid or “Big Bird” (public TV)–then it’s a good thing.