What about the puppet horses? (Brinkhoff/Moegenburg/BRINKHOFF-MOEGENBURG)

Monday night’s foreign policy debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., demonstrated that it is possible to basically agree on a lot of key verbs and nouns but still wring disagreement out of the adverbs and adjectives. Mitt Romney kept using the word “tumult.” President Obama appeared to have prepped some zingers.

When Romney noted that the Navy had only 283 of the 313 ships it said it needed to carry out its mission, making it smaller than in any time since 1917, Obama pounced.

“But 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. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”


It was a little snarky, especially the explanation of aircraft carriers and “ships that go underwater,” but it did the job. Nothing like suggesting that your opponent wants to return America to 1916 levels of military readiness to set the Internet aflame.

Horses and bayonets!

In fact, the idea that Romney’s foreign policy had been imported from the past was one of the president’s key themes of the evening. “The 1980s called,” he essentially said at another point earlier in the debate. “They want their foreign policy back.” And when you’re done with it, they’d like that joke as well. Also, Ronald Reagan wants to say hi.

But horses and bayonets! That’s not even a blast from the past. A blast would require gunpowder. Sure, bayonets are, as Rajiv Chandrasekaran points out, still issued to American marines. But in tandem with horses, the phrase conjures up another vision entirely.

Get Mitt Romney his frigates, his battleships and his cruisers! Spare no expense on the topsails! Mitt Romney will protect us from the Spanish Armada! Let the invaders set no mailed foot upon our shores, or Romney will bring out the ballistas and the catapults and the boiling oil!

His triremes, when push comes to shove, are the fleetest in the land! If anyone comes rowing to our walled city-state and tries to steal anyone’s lovely wife, he will be prepared! America will not put up with this! And he’s learned the lessons of Agamemnon’s wind delay and will have the virgin sacrifice ready and waiting on the dock.

When America is called upon to refight the great battles of the past, Mitt Romney will be prepared. He will not invade Russia in winter, even though Russia is our greatest geopolitical foe. He knows that now.

Mitt Romney will end World War I much more quickly and with a minimum of suffering. Woodrow Wilson had 14 points? Mitt Romney has 14 powerpoints!

Under Romney’s leadership, the Light Brigade will charge successfully. Pickett will not charge at all. And he will be certain to give Gen. Custer better instructions.

Romney will gladly supply the Army with all the flintlock muskets it desires. He will be unstinting in handing out hardtack and powder horns. And no soldier shall go without a shield at least 10 oxhides thick, forged by Vulcan himself! In America! By Americans!

His mounted men know no fear, and their horses are also trained in the whimsical cavorting arts of peace.

Is this fair? No. Of course it’s not fair. This mishmash of military arcana is not an accurate portrayal of what Romney is suggesting, although I for one would be all for a military composed of mounted knights and longbowmen. This is exactly the kind of Romney caricature that Obama has traded in for much of the campaign. And it seems unlikely to stick — snap polls were already suggesting that the debate was, if not a win for Romney, at least not an embarrassment.

After all, how could it be? Were it not for the bayonets and horses, the two candidates kept agreeing. Loudly, with clashing of bayonets, but agreeing all the same.