There are few deeper ironies than to hear campaign reporters complaining that candidates are not being substantive and detailed enough, and it seems that they now may be turning their wagging finger toward both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Don't get me wrong—I'm all for substance, and there are some kinds of vagueness that have to be confronted. For instance, the fact that Romney says he can cut taxes but keep things revenue neutral by also cutting loopholes, yet steadfastly refuses to say which loopholes he'll eliminate, is just absurd and should be called out. Yet if he came out tomorrow with a dozen new lengthy policy papers, would the campaign reporters on his bus stay up late studying them so they could produce one policy-dense analysis after another? No, they wouldn't. Just as candidates often want to seem substantive without actually being substantive, the reporters want to judge substance without having to actually examine substance.
Which is why this Politico article is so silly:
Audacity is so 2008.
Barack Obama, reconciling the contradictory realities of Mitt Romney’s hard fall with a race that remains stubbornly inside the margin of error, is running as the kind of careful, poll-watching politician he disdained the first time he ran for president, according to Democratic and Republican observers.
Obama 2012 has become the silver-templed soul of caution, embracing Napoleon’s dictum of "never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake," in the opinion of one veteran Obama campaign aide.
In doing so, Obama’s campaign team is seeking to take advantage of Romney's own well-chronicled reluctance, at least so far, to release a slate of policy proposals comparable to the detailed blueprints put forth by Obama and other candidates four years ago.
"I see elements of caution, no doubt about it, and it's as wrongheaded as a basketball team that’s up by 17 or 18 points trying to hold onto the ball," said Clinton-era Democratic National Committee Chairman Ed Rendell, a former governor of Pennsylvania.
That settles the question of whether I want Ed Rendell coaching my basketball team. "OK guys, there's five minutes left, and we're up by 18 points. What we need to do now is shoot as quickly as possible every time down the floor, and go into a full court press on defense!" Coach Rendell also recommends pulling the goalie when you're ahead in the third period and throwing hail marys into to the end zone when you're leading by six after the two-minute warning.
Back to the substance question. Here's the thing about Barack Obama: He's the president. You want substance? There's a whole government to examine. He's been doing things for four years. Take a look at them! Do you want to write a story about what Obama will do on health care over the next four years? He doesn't have to hand you a policy paper about it. He already passed a law—you might remember, it was kind of a big deal—and he's going to implement it. Want to know what he'd do on foreign policy? Take a close look at what he's already done, because the odds are high that in a second term he'll pursue pretty much the same course. I suppose Obama could come out with something totally unexpected in order to seem more "bold" and "audacious," but if he did reporters would probably call it a meaningless campaign gimmick, and they'd be right.