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'I Was Just Too Polite,' Says Obama, Vowing To Hit Hard At Next Debate

No more Mr. Nice Guy. That was essentially what President Obama told Tom Joyner, the black-radio megahost, to expect at upcoming presidential debates.

On Wednesday, the president explained that his main mistake at last week's debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney was an excess of gentility.

Obama's self-critique, such as it was, came in response to a Joyner question:

JOYNER: "I only have two questions for you. One, what happened at the debate? Everybody wants to know. Or was that some kind of genius strategy to rope and dope him in and then fact check him at the end? Or, and the other question is for all of my, my black friends who say that the president's not doing nothing, not doing anything for the black community, talk to them."

OBAMA: "Well, two things. I mean, you know, the debate, I think it's fair to say I was just too polite because, you know, it's hard to sometimes just keep on saying and what you're saying isn't true. It gets repetitive. But, you know, the good news is, is that's just the first one. Gov. Romney put forward a whole bunch of stuff that either involved him running away from positions that he had taken, or doubling down on things like Medicare vouchers that are going to hurt him long term."

That was the president's most obvious bit of public navel-gazing since his dubious performance at his first presidential debate with Romney, which left many of his supporters stunned.

But Obama promised that he'd come out swinging, sort of, at the next debate, scheduled for Tuesday.

OBAMA: "And, you know, I think it's fair to say that we will see a little more activity at the next one. ... We've got four weeks left in the election. And we're going to take it to him.

Moments later, Joyner suggested that Obama's supporters had probably grown comfortable, presumably because of the president's widening lead in some pre-debate polls, and that the debate and its aftermath was jarring.

Obama said his supporters should have never been comfortable.

OBAMA: "This is always going to be a close race. The fact of the matter is, is that if people were comfortable they didn't recognize we've just gone through four really tough years."

His campaign always thought the race could be a squeaker, he said.

OBAMA: "And, you know, Gov. Romney kept on making mistakes month after month so it made it look artificially like this was, might end up being a cakewalk. But we understood internally that it never would be. That it was going to be tight, it tightened over the last three or four days, but it could have tightened after the convention if they hadn't had such a bad convention."

While that seemed like a reasonable explanation for why his supporters may have started to get comfortable, it didn't really explain why the president himself appeared in that first debate to lack the "fierce urgency of now" to use the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that Obama often quoted in 2008.

Obama also sounded a bit like the Muhammad Ali of old, almost guaranteeing wins in upcoming debates — both Vice President Biden's face-off with Republican Paul Ryan on Thursday, and his own next two encounters with Romney.

OBAMA: "So people just have to make sure that they stay focused and I guarantee you we've got, you know, Biden I think will be terrific in the debate this week."

JOYNER: "Uh-huh."

OBAMA: "I've got another debate on Tuesday of next week."

JOYNER: "Yeah."

OBAMA: "And by next week I think a lot of the hand wringing will be complete because we're going to go ahead and win this thing."

The Joyner interview could certainly be seen as a form of damage control as the president continues to get past a debate that Romney was seen as winning by a wide margin. In the debate, Obama seemed mostly incapable of effectively rebutting his challenger and presenting an inspiring case for his re-election.

It was also part of the president's get-out-the-vote strategy to the most loyal voters in his Democratic base, African-Americans. If past is prelude, then Obama should get more than 90 percent of African-American voters. The question is how large will the denominator be? Just how many black voters will actually turn out?

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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