Obama's Rhetoric Shifts From Hope to Snark

Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

If you're President Obama, you know you pushed the sarcasm envelope at Monday night's debate when even Rachel Maddow describes the way you spoke to Mitt Romney as being in "very, very overtly patronizing terms."

Maddow probably meant it as a compliment, but there have been plenty of other observers who were critical of the president's use of Seinfeldian set-ups and snarky punch lines to score points about military spending and the state of U.S.-Russia relations.

Time's Mark Halperin described the president's style as "belittling." Mike Allen at Politico called it "snide derision."

Whatever you call it, it seems to have worked. Most pundits scored the debate a win for president, finding that despite the zingers Obama still came off as a confident, knowledgeable commander-in-chief.

By now the president's one-liners have entered the zeitgeist, spawning Internet memes and thousands of tweets, even if the broader policy points they were meant to illustrate have been forgotten.

When Romney accused the president of cutting back on military spending by noting the U.S. Navy had fewer ships today than in World War I, Obama shot back, "Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed."

He then added, "We also have things called aircraft carriers that planes land on and submarines that go under water."

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More than 100,000 people tweeted about horses and bayonets within a minute of the president's saying it Monday night. The sound bite will be remembered, but what of the strange dynamic in which Romney, the fiscal conservative, called for increased military spending, and Obama, running on a record as a wartime president, called for drastic cuts?

Obama also lit up the blogosphere when he jabbed Romney for recently describing Russia as the biggest global threat to the U.S.

(READ: The complete transcript of the third and final presidential debate)

"The 1980s, they're now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War's been over for 20 years," Obama said a la George Constanza's famous "jerk store" comeback.

Obama, who in 2008 electrified the electorate with soaring rhetoric, has more recently been turning to easy-access bon mots.

"[Romney is] changing up so much and backtracking and side stepping we've got to name this condition he's going through," the president said at a rally last week.

"I think it's called … Romnesia," he added to cheers and laughter. "I'm not a medical doctor, but I do want to go over some of the symptoms with you because I want to make sure nobody else catches it."

Both campaigns have previously left most of the snark to their staffs and surrogates, slinging one-liners at each other on Twitter.

"CNN reports a little nervous stomach for Team Mitt. Suggestion: Try a little Milk of Romnesia!" Obama's chief advisor David Axelrod tweeted yesterday.

Romney at the debate came off quieter than he has in previous match ups, but neither he nor his team have previously shied away from snark.

Romney told The New York Times ahead of the first debate that his strategy relied in part on memorizing zingers.

"You put $90 billion - like 50 years worth of tax breaks - into solar and wind, to Solyndra and Fisker and Tesla and Ener1," he told the president earlier this month in Denver. "I had a friend who said: 'You don't just pick the winners and losers; you pick the losers.' "