(CBS News) Among the softballs gently tossed at President Obama Monday during his visit with the ladies of "The View," Barbara Walters wanted to know "what would be so terrible if Mitt Romney were elected?"
"Would it be disastrous for the country?" she asked.
It's an issue Mr. Obama has addressed countless times in the 61 campaign rallies and over 200 fundraisers he's done since filing with the Federal Election Commission as a candidate for re-election last year.
"We can survive a lot," the president said of the prospect of a Romney victory. "But the American people don't want to just survive. We want to thrive."
The president said he and Romney have decidedly different visions of how to grow the economy. "We grow faster when the middle class is doing well," he said.
Ever since candidate Bill Clinton donned Blues Brothers sunglasses and played his saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1992, it's become an increasingly frequent occurrence for presidential incumbents and challengers to appear on TV shows more often home to Hollywood celebrities than political leaders.
"I told folks I'm just supposed to be eye candy here for you guys," Mr. Obama quipped about the fact that he was the only man on the couch with Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, the First Lady, Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Sherri Shepherd.
He came out on stage bearing a birthday basket of gifts for Walters, who celebrates her 83rd birthday tomorrow, the day the show is to be broadcast.
The basket contained M&Ms with a presidential seal on the box, a deck of Marine One playing cards, some of the White House beer brewed with honey from the hive on the South Lawn and a White House-embossed golf ball. Also among the gifts were some White House napkins, which Mr. Obama joked about bringing "rather than have her steal napkins" from the White House.
On a more serious note, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the one conservative on the couch, asked the president if his policies are failing the middle class.
Mr. Obama was quick to cite his bailout of the U.S. auto industry, which he said was "back on top." But he revised the question to look "forward" - the word that serves as the motto of his re-election campaign.
He called Gov. Romney "a good man who means well," but said "the policies he's putting forward are precisely the policies that got us into this mess."
"I think the American people are weighing what's going on," said the president. "We all understand that folks are going through tough times out there."
Hasselbeck also asked Mr. Obama about his statement in a town meeting on Thursday that "you can't change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside."
Having defended his assertion since then, Mr. Obama explained that what he meant was that beyond trying to change government from the inside, "you've got to mobilize the American people."
"When ordinary people are engaged and paying attention, that's when Congress responds," he said. "We can't play just an inside game."
He was asked about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi last week that claimed the lives of four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens, and where it was terrorism.
Based on the kind of weapons that were used in the assault, he said "it wasn't just a mob action."
He said an investigation was still underway, but it's clear that there are still a lot of threats "out there" targeting the United States.
"That's why we have to maintain the strongest military in the world, that's why we can't let down our guard when it comes to the intelligence work," he said. The president added that the U.S. must stay on top of al-Qaeda in Pakistan, Afghanistan and related fringe groups.
He said the U.S. would not "shrink back from the world" because of the attack. He vowed to "hunt down" those responsible for the killings. "We will bring them to justice," he said once again.
The taping of his appearance of "The View" came at the start of a 24-hour visit to New York City during which he will deliver his annual address Tuesday morning to the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly. He will also be addressing the Clinton Global Initiative, the organization founded by the 42rd president to combat poverty and promote economic growth.
Mr. Obama was hosting a reception Monday evening for other foreign leaders attending the U.N. gathering, but he had no bilateral meetings scheduled with any other heads of state as is usually the case. Last year, he had 13 such meetings. This year, he returns to Washington on Tuesday afternoon and to the campaign trail on Wednesday.