Ryan Confused By More Than ‘Horses And Bayonets’

One of the best – if not the best – lines from the third presidential debate of 2012 was President Obama’s retort to Romney’s attack on the size of the military under Obama’s leadership. The exchange went a little something like this:

Romney: “Our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission; we’re not down to 285. We’re headed down to the low 200s if we go through a sequestration. That’s unacceptable to me.”

Obama: “I think Gov. 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 had in 1916. Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military has changed.”

It was a “laugh out loud” moment, reported later, in the slew of post-debate reports, to have set a group of Navy men watching the debate into a group guffaw. Which is understandable; it’s funny. It was a smart, witty retort to an uneducated comment by a man who’s never run the military or had to make decisions related to it, whether readiness, deployment or…size. Romney was, as they say, “schooled.”


But this morning it appears the President’s snappy rejoinder has confused Number 2 on the GOP ticket, Paul Ryan. The man who would be a heartbeat away from the presidency and all its weighty life and death decisions, sat with host Norah O’Donnell on CBS this morning and, with young, knitted brow, opined:

“Look, to compare modern American battleships with bayonets, I, I just don’t understand that comparison. Look, we have to have a strong Navy to keep peace and prosperity. If all these defense cuts go through, our Navy will be small than it was before World War I. That’s not acceptable. And, yes, the…the ocean hasn’t shrunk.”

Did anyone say it did?

Similar to Sarah Palin’s somewhat literal take – to put kindly – on loftier concepts involving smart, nuanced wit, Mr. Ryan seems to have missed the point. To understand the “horses and bayonets” line requires a thought process that can grasp analogy; can understand literary and historical references. The reason most people laughed was because it was smart, it was funny; it was the best possible retort to the accusation of military neglect or, worse, malfeasance.

To translate for Mr. Ryan: what the President was saying is that the modern, streamlined Navy of the 21st  century can be a lighter, smaller, more efficient one because of technological advances in both equipment and strategy….allowing us to transcend the methodology and heavy metal of the days of, yep, “horses and bayonets.”

Maybe it does seem like the ocean got smaller to him…

Much will be made of many of the lines thrown out in this last (thank God!) debate, but I would suggest that, much like the McCain team did for Sarah Palin (brilliantly documented in the HBO film, Game Change), the Romney/Ryan operatives spend some time with the Vice Presidential candidate and do a little homework on history and literature, and – while they’re at it – perhaps a book or two on humor, wit, and the art of repartee. We’ve still got a few more weeks of this and it would be a shame if he’s left sitting at the card table while the grown ups talk.

Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on TwitterFacebook and Rock+Paper+Music; for details and links to her other work, visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com. To access her archive at Addicting Info, click here.