In 2008 the subject was a gas tax break. Ben Smith reported:

Obama has, in the eyes of editorialists and policy wonks on virtually all sides — notably, environmentalists and economists — the high ground on the question of a three-month gas tax holiday, which he opposes and [Hillary] Clinton and [John]McCain support. . . .

“This is the problem with Washington. We are facing a situation where oil prices could hit $200 a barrel. Oil companies like Shell and BP just reported record profits for the quarter. And we’re arguing over a gimmick to save you half a tank of gas over the course of the entire summer so that everyone in Washington can pat themselves on the back and say that they did something,” he said.

“This isn’t an idea designed to get you through the summer, it’s an idea designed to get them through an election,” he said, probably a true statement.

Ah, what a difference four years and a cruddy record make. Now Obama is king of the gimmicks.

My colleague Dana Milbank derides the Buffett Rule as a transparent gimmick and observes: “ Three years into his presidency, Obama has not introduced a plan for comprehensive tax reform — arguably the most important vehicle for fixing the nation’s finances and boosting long-term economic growth. His opponents haven’t done much better, but that doesn’t excuse the president’s failures: appointing the Simpson-Bowles commission and then disregarding its findings, offering a plan for business tax reform only, and issuing a series of platitudes. The Buffett Rule, rather than overhauling the tax code, would simply add another layer.”

Actually, Mitt Romney does have a comprehensive tax plan that, like Simpson-Bowles, lowers rates and expands the base. Liberals complain that he hasn’t specified which deductions and credits would be phased out for upper-income earners to pay for the lower rates (neither did Simpson-Bowles, by the way). But that’s like the guy with an empty lot sniping that his neighbor hasn’t picked out curtains yet. A guy with an empty lot (or agenda) shouldn’t be so quick to snipe that the other guy is short on some finishing touches.

Unfortunately, all Obama has these days is gimmicks. And excuses. Lot and lots of them. What’s his Medicare reform plan? Decry Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for ending Medicare “as we know it.” What’s his immigration reform plan? Accuse the GOP of being anti-immigrant. What is his pro-jobs plan? Blame George W. Bush. What is his Iran plan? Delay until after the election. His Syria plan? Leave it to Russia. What about health care? Delegitimize the Supreme Court. Gay marriage? He’s evolving, you see. Why is the recovery so slow? Republicans are running a war on women!

The answer to nearly any question about the shortcomings of Obama’s agenda or record is one of the following: George Bush left me with a mess; Congress (after two years when Democrats controlled everything) didn’t give me what I wanted; the economy was worse than we thought; Ryan wants to cut the safety net; Romney is anti- [fill in the blank with the ethnic, gender, racial, or economic group Obama is trying to court]; or we already succeeded and you all can’t appreciate how well it’s worked.

The media have been remarkably uninterested in challenging Obama’s excuses and gimmicks and indifference to actual policy proposals. Romney is badgered to lay out his alternative to Obamacare. He is mocked because his advisers had to check on the candidate’s position on Lily Ledbetter legislation. (Oh my, they didn’t know off the tops of their heads the candidate’s view on a trivial piece of legislation that has made zero difference to 99.999 percent of American women and was devised as a bone to the plaintiffs bar?! For those who thought Obama made it illegal to pay women less than men, understand that the Equal Pay Act has been on the books for nearly 50 years.) These are curtains; Obama has an empty lot where a tax, spending, and entitlement agenda should stand.

Romney should come up with a comprehensive health-care plan, but he’s already come up with tax, spending, entitlement, energy and foreign policy plans. Where are Obama’s? (Is it what’s in his last budget?) We know much more about what Romney would do beginning in 2013 than we do about Obama. Shouldn’t the president, you know, be asked why he is offering so little substance and so much red meat?

A tip for Romney: Instead of responding to each spurious claim or gimmick, ask what Obama has accomplished over three years, why the recovery is so anemic and why he won’t tell us what he’d do in four more. I mean, the answer to a gimmick is to press the opponent on why he must resort to gimmicks.