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NYT Echoing Team Obama Complaints about Romney Pivot

Has Romney shifted to the center? Is he spewing misleading numbers and making conflicting promises in an effort to be everything to everybody?

Well, yes, to some extent. It’s what campaigners do. But the fetish of this New York Times piece in particular, and the wonk press in general, for “specific programs” and detailed numerical projections is of course a silly preoccupation. In the American system, presidents don’t often present detailed programs to Congress, nicely wrapped with a bow and ready to pass. They’re supposed to point us in the right direction, to show us the way; they may have some red lines and no-go zones, but in general they give Congress some sense of the destination rather than draw out a detailed road map listing the exact route they have to take to get there.

Intellectual journalists who demand that campaigns produce detailed tax plans—or health care plans for that matter—are wasting everyone’s time. And then they waste even more of our time by debating the micro-merits of proposals that will never, never, never actually exist.

Obamacare had very little in common with the proposals President Obama made on the campaign trail and that were endlessly litigated and debated in turgid articles in highbrow reviews during the Democratic primary campaigns in 2008. But even though the law he signed bore little similarity to the proposals he made, most Americans would say he fulfilled his pledge to make universal health care his administration’s priority.

Politicians seeking election aren’t really able to tell us the details of the programs that will be enacted under their leadership. What they should do is tell us in general terms the direction in which to they intend to lead.

Voters get this. They know to ignore squabbles like the endless debates over Hillary-care vs. Obama-care. They understand not to take too seriously the wonks who devotedly and endlessly untangled the twists and turns of fantasy programs. Similarly, those who tune out the micro-details of the 2012 race’s dueling tax proposals are more realistic than those who think that fixating on these details is the key to responsible journalism.

The differences between Romney and Obama are real and substantial. Voters will have to make a couple of choices this November: which of the two destinations on offer should America choose, and which candidate seems most prepared to carry out at least some of his program, while responding to the many unpredictable events and crises that will be much more important in 2013 and 2014 than any of the piles of unread campaign position papers rotting in landfills.

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