The Final Debate

‘Horses and Bayonets,’ ‘Clear Eyes,’ and ‘Battleships’ at Final Romney-Obama Debate

First it’s a line from Friday Night Lights, now it’s talk of battleships and bayonets. Why does the oeuvre of Peter Berg keep getting thrown into Mitt Romney’s speeches?

“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”

Mitt Romney’s apparent obsession with that slogan, used by the small-town high-school football team depicted on the now-defunct TV series Friday Night Lights, is a real head-scratcher. It came up once more during the fourth and final debate—a topsy-turvy affair in Boca Raton, Fla. (ironically, that’s the site of Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” video), poorly moderated by CBS’s Bob Schieffer, who struggled to keep the two presidential candidates focused on the topic of foreign policy. When the former Massachusetts governor was taken to task by President Obama for claiming that Russia remains America’s foremost “geopolitical foe,” Romney responded:

“I have clear eyes on this. I’m not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia or Mr. Putin, and I’m certainly not going to say to him, I’ll give you more flexibility after the election. After the election he’ll get more backbone.”

Oops, there he goes again. Peter Berg, the executive producer Friday Night Lights, has already fired off an angry letter (PDF) to the Romney campaign claiming they “plagiarized” his show’s trademark phrase for campaign purposes.

“Your politics and campaign are clearly not aligned with the themes we portrayed in our series,” Berg wrote on Oct. 12. “The only relevant comparison that I see between your campaign and Friday Night Lights is in the character of Buddy Garrity—who turned his back on American car manufacturers selling imported cars from Japan.” (Peter Berg could not be reached for comment for this article).

Despite Berg’s fiery missive, Romney has kept the phrase in his repertoire, even going so far as handing out bracelets to reporters and staff bearing the slogan in Florida on Sunday.

Romney’s predilection for Friday Night Lights is particularly strange when you take into consideration that Romney was a cheerleader in high school.

“He was more at home on the sidelines, cheering the football team on as a member of the Pep Club, chanting such cheers into a megaphone as ‘Iron them out. Iron them out. Smooooth,’” according to The Washington Post.

Silly biographical tidbits aside, later in the debate, arguably the most memorable zinger was delivered by President Obama. When Romney took Obama to task for cutting military spending by $1 trillion, and claiming the U.S. Navy needs more battleships since it has only 284, “on track to hit the lowest levels since 1916.”

Obama responded:

“You mention the Navy, for example, and the fact that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets. We have these things called aircraft carriers and planes land on them. We have ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.” He added, “It’s not a game of Battleship where we’re counting ships, it’s ‘What are our priorities?’”

Of course, #HorsesAndBayonets immediately began trending on Twitter. But let’s not overlook the Battleship reference. For those unfamiliar—and there are many of you, since it was one of the year’s biggest busts at the box office—Battleship was a mega-budget Hollywood blockbuster released earlier this year and directed by none other than Peter Berg. Why Berg’s oeuvre keeps finding its way into the presidential election is anyone’s guess, although both Friday Night Lights and Battleship exhibit a distinct brand of Ra-Ra-Ra! U.S. patriotism.

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Obama’s dig at Romney’s naval obsession, strange when you consider that the majority of our current wars and conflicts abroad involve land-locked countries, holds credence, if The New York Times is to be believed.

On Oct. 20, Elisabeth Bumiller wrote a fascinating piece for the Times where she visited Groton, Conn., the “Submarine Capital of the World.” While Obama wishes to build only two Virginia-class nuclear-attack submarines a year, Romney wants to increase this number to three—even though they come at a cost of $2 billion apiece. According to the Romney plan, he wishes to increase the military budget to 4 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, even though there is widespread agreement that spending cuts must be made.

According to the Times:

“Todd Harrison, a senior fellow for defense budget studies at the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, has calculated that even if a Romney administration slowly increases the military budget to 4 percent of the G.D.P. over two presidential terms, that would still amount to spending $7.5 trillion over the next decade—or $1.8 trillion more than the Obama administration plans for the Pentagon’s base budget in the same period.”

Visine, anyone?