With a brilliant and nearly perfectly pitched performance, Mitt Romney highlighted Mr. Obama's distortions and lies, sometimes with simple declarative sentences ("Virtually everything he just said about my tax plan is inaccurate"), and sometimes with humor. When Obama recited one of his favorite faux facts, that companies get "a tax break for shipping jobs overseas," Romney, in one of his tidy and organized catalogue of corrections, responded: "You said you get a deduction for taking a plant overseas. Look, I've been in business for 25 years. I have no idea what you're talking about. I maybe need to get a new accountant."
The mythical tax break for shipping jobs overseas, a staple of Obama rhetoric for more than four years, is a perfect encapsulation of the story of this presidency. Obama seems to be identifying a problem, except that his description is false. And if it were true, why did Obama do nothing about it when his party controlled both houses of Congress?
Yet he has repeated this falsehood, along with so many others, to rousing cheers and approval from a Nobel Prize winning economist and most of the press. He has never been pressed on his serial dishonesty and low demagoguery. He has lied with impunity, until now.
On Wednesday night in Denver, Mitt Romney pulled the statue from its plinth. He did so without showing disrespect for the man or the office he holds. With calm command of the facts, he expertly punctured the inflated balloon of complacent self-regard that President Obama has become, all the while keeping his focus on the larger matter at hand: how to remove the strangling grip of the state from the economy's neck.
One debate does not usually decide an election. Mr. Obama will doubtless arrive in New York better prepared on October 16. But Mitt Romney, in one quite dazzling performance, has transformed the image of the president and of himself. It was the absolute best presidential debate performance I have ever seen -- and it didn't come a moment too soon.