Jonah Goldberg

In the third and final debate, Barack Obama scored huge points with the media, college kids and die-hard liberals -- in other words, his base -- when he mocked Mitt Romney's concern about our historically small Navy.

"But I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works," the president said. "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."

"And so," he added, "the question is not a game of Battleship where we're counting ships," The question is "what are our capabilities."

This struck me as an example of how thoroughly liberalism has confused sneering for intellectual confidence. It shouldn't be surprising, given that comedy shows often substitute for news programs, particularly for younger liberals. That's probably why the president has been spending more time talking to DJs, entertainment shows and comedians than to reporters. He desperately needs the support of low-information voters, who've replaced the old adage "it's funny because it's true" with "if it's funny, it must be true."

Obama's argument -- if that's not too generous a word -- is that the Navy in particular, and the military in general, can do so much more because of technological advances.

And that is certainly true.

But it's also true that there have been huge advances in the technology used to sink our ships and blow up our planes as well. And, to date, no breakthrough innovation has led us to figuring out how to put one ship in two places at once.

There's another problem. What innovation does he have in mind? Many of our warplanes and nearly all of our major naval vessels are much older than the pilots and sailors flying and sailing them. It's great to talk up the benefits of innovation, but that argument starts to sputter when you realize we are often relying on the innovation of older generations. For all his talk about the game Battleship, we haven't built a real battleship in almost 70 years, and the Navy hasn't had one in its arsenal for decades.

But what I find most interesting about this argument is how selective it is. For instance, defenders of Obama's Keynesian economic policies are constantly touting the benefits of big, high-tech spending programs because of the "multiplier effect" -- the increased economic activity "primed" by government spending.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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