The origins of Obama’s ‘horses and bayonets’ line


Within minutes of the words coming out of President Obama’s mouth on Monday, the Internets asploded once again creating a meme from a presidential debate. Here’s what caused the reaction this time:

President Obama: “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 — 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.

Seemingly instantly, @obamasbayonetts was a Twitter account (although, no tweets have been sent as of this writing). There were also two different Tumblr accounts (here and here) having fun with the President’s memorable one-liner. After Big Bird’s mention at the first presidential debate and the “binders full of women” remark of debate number two, perhaps it was just inevitable that the third debate would get a meme all of its own.

But where did that “horses and bayonets” line come from? Was it written in advance? (Almost certainly.) Did President Obama come up with it as Obama campaign senior adviser David Plouffe insisted (Maaaaybe, but probably not.) Or did the germ of that joke actually come from a certain comedian turned U.S. senator?

In his latest Rewrite segment, msnbc’s Lawrence O’Donnell suggested Senator Al Franken could have planted the seed “for the best line of the night” in the 2004 book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. O’Donnell pointed to a key section in Franken’s piece, a graph comparing the Defense budgets of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan:


In 1864 President Lincoln requested 188,718 new horses.

And 120 years later, President Reagan - to his eternal shame - requested only 3

“What Mitt Romney is doing now is straight out of the George W. Bush campaign and the Ronald Reagan campaign,” said O’Donnell. “The Franken book reminds us that Republicans running against a Democratic White House always attack the military.”

The origins of Obama's 'horses and bayonets' line