Why Romney's Right: Many Cheap Ships Safer Than Few Expensive Ones

Barack Obama lost the debate in Boca Raton last night. It must have been the altitude.

The president patronized, interrupted, and mocked Republican challenger Mitt Romney throughout the night. In return, Romney acted presidential, and may have put this election away.

A key moment of the night in this final policy debate was a set-piece zinger by the president as the candidates discussed military spending:

Romney: Our Navy is older -- excuse me -- our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We’re now down to 285. We’re headed down to the -- to the low 200s if we go through with sequestration. That’s unacceptable to me. I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy.

Our Air Force is older and smaller than any time since it was founded in 1947. We’ve changed for the first time since FDR. We -- since FDR we had the -- we’ve always had the strategy of saying we could fight in two conflicts at once. Now we’re changing to one conflict.

Look, this, in my view, is the highest responsibility of the president of the United States, which is to maintain the safety of the American people. And I will not cut our military budget by a trillion dollars, which is the combination of the budget cuts that the president has as well as the sequestration cuts. That, in my view, is -- is -- is making our future less certain and less secure. I won’t do it.

Obama: Bob, I just need to comment on this. First of all, the sequester is not something that I proposed. It’s something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen. The budget that we’re talking about is not reducing our military spending. It’s maintaining it.

But I think Governor Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works. You -- you mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets -- (laughter) -- because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.

And so the question is not a game of Battleship where we’re counting ships. It’s -- it’s what are our capabilities.

Historian Tim Stanley covered the exchange for the UK's Telegraph, and was not impressed:

The candidates were discussing military spending and Romney had just accused Obama of making harmful cutbacks. The president wheeled out what must have seemed like a great, pre-planned zinger: “I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military's changed.” The audience laughed, Obama laughed, I laughed. It was funny.

But here’s why it was also a vote loser. For a start, Twitter immediately lit up with examples of how the U.S. Army does still use horses and bayonets (horses were used during the invasion of Afghanistan). More importantly, this was one example of many in which the president insulted, patronized, and mocked his opponent rather than put across a constructive argument.

Stanley's analysis was similar to post-debate observations by political columnist Charles Krauthammer, who noted: "Romney went large. Obama went very, very small -- shockingly small." Both men were correct in their observations that Romney won the debate.

But what was most fascinating: the American media, so obviously biased in favor of Obama, looked at this same exchange on "how our military works" and gave the victory to the president. They can only do so from a position of ignorance.