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9 Best Blows Landed by Obama in Presidential Debate

The president punctured Romney’s armor of jovial smugness through a combination of rehearsed rejoinders, on-the-spot quips and deft deflections of Romney’s attacks.
 
 
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It’s not often one gets to see President Barack Obama in pugilistic form. However competitive the guy may be -- and, by all accounts, he is quite -- he’s not a person who enjoys direct confrontation.  

In a face-to-face showdown, Obama’s apparent discomfort can induce a level of detachment that seems to border on dissociation, as seen in his first debate face-off with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Denver earlier this month. But in last night’s battle between the two presidential contenders at Hofstra University in New York, Obama was fully present, even if his unease occasionally revealed itself, puncturing Romney’s armor of jovial smugness through a combination of rehearsed rejoinders, on-the-spot quips and deft deflections of Romney’s attacks. And on one subject where Obama was vulnerable -- the administration’s response to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the president skillfully used a misstatement by Romney to knock the Republican off his game.

Aside from his penchant for, just as pundits are about to write him off, performing well, Obama wasn’t faced with the surprise he walked into in Denver, when Romney famously reset his Etch-a-Sketch to dial up an entirely new set of positions, on issues ranging from immigration to taxes from those he had been peddling over the course the campaign, or sought to obscure his right-wing stance on abortion with qualifying language.

With the Democratic base demanding some fight from the president, Obama didn’t disappoint. Here are the nine best rhetorical blows he landed on the Republican candidate.

1. Terror in the Rose Garden. It wasn’t the first punch Obama threw (we’ll get to that), but it’s the one you’ll be hearing most about today -- the one in which Romney threw down a bad fact and got himself badly snagged on it.

Ever since the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that left the American ambassador and three consulate staff dead, the administration has struggled to communicate with the public just exactly what happened on September 11, 2012, when the consulate came under attack by heavily armed men. But it’s a hand that Romney has consistently overplayed, and he did so again at Hofstra.

Republicans sought to politicize the tragedy from the moment it happened: Romney issued a statement on the day of the incident that falsely accused the administration of “sympathiz[ing] with those who waged the attacks,” and called a press conference the next day to make the same charge. That played badly for Romney, but by the following weekend, the administration flubbed its own response when U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice sounded a bit too definitive when, while making the rounds of the Sunday morning talk shows, she said the administration, based on its best information, was viewing the attack as a mob response to a crude anti-Islam video posted by an American filmmaker on YouTube. Questions also arose about the level of security at the consulate, renewing Republicans’ criticism of the administration.

During a discussion of the Libya attack, Romney said, “There were many days that passed before we knew whether this was a spontaneous demonstration, or actually whether it was a terrorist attack.”

Obama begged to differ. From the debate transcript:

The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people in the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we're going to hunt down those who committed this crime.

And then a few days later, I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force Base and grieving with the families.

And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. Ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we've lost four of our own, governor, is offensive. That's not what we do. That's not what I do as president, that's not what I do as commander in chief.

 
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