One of the hardest things to do in politics is forgo a good joke, especially one at the expense of your opponent. For last night's debate President Obama probably prepared in advance to answer the Romney charge (made often in speeches) that the Administration is putting national security at risk by reducing the size of the Navy. But he should have held back the sarcastic dismissal.
"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. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."
That did get a laugh in the hall in Boca Raton. But at soon as I heard it, I thought, well, there's a lot more to this issue than the obsolescense of horses and bayonets. America became a world power over a hundred years ago because we became a sea power and sea power helps preserve American power today. There's a sizable and ardent debate about the proper size of the Navy and it needs to be heard. Maybe now it will be.
The President also might have wanted to ponder the politics of his quip. As Jonathan Tobin points out at Commentary, it's almost certain the remark cost Obama jokes in the vicinity of Norfolk in the battleground state of Virginia. But it also undoubtedly hurt in any Navy port. And, by the way, there are lots of Navy veterans out there who probably were not charmed by the remark. It sounded as if the President was scorning the Navy and not just Gov. Romney.
More importantly, the President is absolutely wrong in asserting that the "sequester" slated tol add another half trillion in military cuts if a new budget deal is not adopted early next year is "not going to happen." Without Executive and Congressional action, it will happen.
Mr. Obama's joke is a real howler.