President Obama's most talked-about zinger in Monday's debate came when he ridiculed Mitt Romney for suggesting that the U.S. Navy is underfunded, lamenting that it has fewer ships than it did in 1917. Yes, we have fewer ships, Obama responded witheringly, but we also have fewer "horses and bayonets." Obama said his point was that the military's needs have evolved — modern aircraft carriers and nuclear subs are so much more powerful than the war vessels of yesteryear that the comparison is pointless and "counting ships" is no way to measure naval power. Conservatives say the president was insulting the Navy. Was the remark disrespectful, or was it an effective way to blunt Romney's criticism?

Obama owes an apology to every American sailor: Obama's "gratuitous insult" to the Navy, equating "old-fashioned" ships with obsolete bayonets, was appalling, says Yuval Levin at National Review. "Are the [Navy's] hundreds of thousands of sailors... merely riders in some quixotic cavalry brigade chasing make-believe Indian chiefs?" No, they're critical to "defending America's security" and projecting our force around the world. Obama's dismissive remark showed that, for a sitting president, he knows remarkably little about security strategy. When swing-state Virginia, a Navy stronghold, votes, he'll pay for his ignorance.
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If anyone's insulting people, it's Romney: Obama wasn't disparaging the Navy by dismissing claims that it's weak, says Amy Davidson at The New Yorker. "If there's an insult here, it lies in Romney's apparent assumption that voters are incapable of grasping" the fact that you can't measure our fleet's capabilities by the "raw number of boats." Romney deserved to be mocked for his "absurd" claim, especially since "there were fewer ships in George W. Bush's Navy than in Obama's." Does Romney care about facts at all?
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Actually, Romney's the one who got dissed: Love it or hate it, Obama's "horses and bayonets" quip was the debate's "most notable knock-out punch," says Jasper Zweibel at PolicyMic. Whether it will work for or against the president is another question. "Obama then really flirted with the line between debating Romney and flat out insulting him." The president probably "pulled it off without seeming like too big of a jerk," although his snarkiness might not go over well with some voters.
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