No reward for being specific

Listening to the press, one would believe that there is much angst in America today about the lack of clarity in the presidential candidates’ proposals, which would be remedied by each candidate offering specifics regarding the budget cuts, tax increases, program eliminations and the like that he would require if he won in November. Theoretically, the American electorate would be better informed and make a wiser decision if Mitt Romney and President Obama would state their plans with more specificity.

In reality, the pleas for clarity made by the media are usually seen inside a campaign as a trap serving the interest of either Romney or Obama. There is a reason the candidates avoid offering specifics on tax and spending policyenergy policy or just about anything that is hard or complicated. To do so would invite defeat. Campaign suicide is not honorable and it would ensure the election of your opponent, thereby guaranteeing he would be allowed to do the harmful things you are against. In other words: Specificity kills.

Candidates are not rewarded for being specific. Their opponents attack the plans offered without giving their own specifics. And the political class of media, pundits and experts shake their heads and declare the campaign is stupid because it left itself vulnerable to attacks by offering these specifics. Politically, the only thing worse than not offering specifics is offering specifics.

So here we are, avoiding the details and frequently sticking to platitudes, hoping the other side will get specific so that we can pounce. The media will pounce and the political class will pounce and all the losing campaign can do is claim a certain moral high ground in the concession speech after the votes are counted.

Let's stop all the hand-wringing and faux disillusionment over the lack of specifics, acknowledge how politics really works and move on. Or at least, let's silently wait until the next time one of the campaigns makes the gaffe of specificity, and then we can all pounce.

Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.

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