"That way, no big deal. That was my solution. He said okay, whatever." As soon as the debate began, Cox found himself outfoxed. He went into it in traditional fashion, preparing facts to lay out, one argument after another, gleaned from books and Time and Newsweek.Unfortunately for Obama, Romney is not the kind of kid who'd make a deal to just go for B's. And Romney's not Gramps, though I note that, in Obama's practice sessions for the debate, the role of Romney was played by John Kerry. And I think Kerry was Gramps.
And Barry got up there and he just had a few arguments that I hadn’t thought of.… I was always touching back to this many killed, guns are killing, and he was just bouncing all over the place, but what he did is he went up to that ten-thousand-foot level. I remember him talking about, “How do guns make gun owners feel?” I hadn’t thought of that. How am I going to respond? He was very good on his feet, thinking more strategically on what could benefit him. I was sitting there flabbergasted; I remember thinking this is too heavily a philosophical question for me. And the teacher loved it. Barry was very smooth, and I started stumbling around all over the place. I felt he formulated in his own mind while we were doing it a kind of angle or wedge that was different than the angle I had been going. I was literal— one, two, three, four— and he kind of did some audibles. He wasn’t pulling out a whole lot of facts, he just seemed to have structured a bunch of little islands that he could jump to....By the time Cox faced off against him, Barry had already mastered the art of knocking a debate opponent off-balance. He had been practicing almost daily on Gramps, who had tried without much success to assume the role of disciplinarian, laying down what the teenager considered to be “an endless series of petty and arbitrary rules” about use of the car and chores around the apartment. Eventually Barry would regret the way he dealt with his grandfather, but at the time he took advantage of his debating skills: “With a certain talent for rhetoric, as well as an absolute certainty about the merits of my own views, I found that I could generally win these arguments in the narrow sense of leaving my grandfather flustered, angry, and sounding unreasonable.”
October 4, 2012
David Maraniss — in his book "Barack Obama" — quotes Obama's high-school debate partner, Jeff Cox.