In some presidential election years, cynics say there’s not much difference between the parties. Elected official of both parties vote for pork, while corruption and arrogance affect Democrats and Republicans alike. Neither party will dismantle the vast majority of the federal government. (Not even the Education Department is on the chopping block these days.) But this generalized complaint, if it was ever accurate, certainly isn’t the case in this presidential election.

President Obama favors massive cuts in defense spending. Mitt Romney doesn’t.

Obama practices the art of Mediscare; Romney wants a Medicare premium support plan.

Obama wants a huge tax hike; Romney doesn’t.

Romney wants to block-grant Medicaid; Obama doesn’t.

Romney wants to get tough with China; Obama wants to avoid confrontation at all costs.

Romney wants to shrink the federal workforce; Obama has grown it.

Romney wants to keep federal spending at or below 20 percent of GDP; Obama plans on raising it and sustaining it at a level not seen except in wartime.

Romney wants to appoint judges who look to the meaning and intent of the Constitution; Obama thinks the Constitution is “living” and wants judges to employ “empathy.”

Obama thinks Russian “reset” is working just fine; Romney sees Russia as an adversary and “reset” as a flop.

Obama thinks Obamacare is fiscally responsible and constitutional; Romney doesn’t.

Obama think Dodd-Frank is good regulatory legislation; Romney thinks it is a nightmare.

Obama thinks sanctions combined with diplomacy are working to disarm Iran; Romney thinks we are being taken for a ride.

Obama is pro-choice, even opposing the partial-birth abortion ban; Romney is pro-life.

Obama thinks the profit motive is inherently suspect; Romney understands it’s critical to job creation.

Obama thinks the Environmental Protection Agency is doing a swell job; Romney thinks it is a regulatory python, squeezing the living daylights out of business.

Obama opposes the Keystone XL Pipeline; Romney favors it.

Obama wants the taxpayers to subsidize “green” jobs; Romney doesn’t.

Obama says gay marriage should be legal (although he believes the states should decide for themselves); Romney opposes gay marriage.

Obama has played down human rights. Romney says he’d elevate human rights.

Obama says U.S. policy is that the Mideast “peace process” negotiations should begin with the “1967 borders”; Romney does not think the United States should predetermine that issue, especially since it insists that the so-called “right of return” must be left for negotiations.

Obama thinks the wealthy get rich at the expense of the poor; Romney doesn’t believe the economy is a zero-sum game.

Obama thinks Catholic institutions should be forced to abide by the Obamacare mandate that calls for employers to provide birth control and abortion-inducing drugs; Romney thinks this violates the First Amendment.

There are many other issues that divide Romney and Obama on both domestic and foreign policy. There is little doubt that there is a vast difference between the two candidates on a wide array of issues. It is instructive that Romney wants to talk about those substantive differences, especially on the economy, while Obama wants to make Romney’s Bain Capital background disqualifying and his allies want to talk about Romney’s Mormonism and wealth.

The degree to which the Obama campaign is dependent upon attacking Romney personally and waging a campaign of vilification, distraction and fabrication is brought home in John Heilemann’s latest piece. A snippet of the mean-spirited barrage that Romney faces:

They will pummel him for being a vulture-vampire capitalist at Bain Capital. They will pound him for being a miserable failure as the governor of Massachusetts. They will mash him for being a water-carrier for Paul Ryan’s Social Darwinist fiscal program. They will maul him for being a combination of Jerry Falwell, Joe Arpaio, and John Galt on a range of issues that strike deep chords with the Obama coalition. “We’re gonna say, ‘Let’s be clear what he would do as president,’ ” Plouffe explains. “Potentially abortion will be criminalized. Women will be denied contraceptive services. He’s far right on immigration. He supports efforts to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage.”

The Obama effort at disqualifying Romney will go beyond painting him as excessively conservative, however. It will aim to cast him as an avatar of revanchism. “He’s the fifties, he is retro, he is backward, and we are forward — that’s the basic construct,” says a top Obama strategist. “If you’re a woman, you’re Hispanic, you’re young, or you’ve gotten left out, you look at Romney and say, ‘This . . . guy is gonna take us back to the way it always was, and guess what? I’ve never been part of that.’ ”

In its arrogance, the Obama team never imagines that voters will care about mundane matters like policy. The Obama team is convinced that Romney and the voters are dolts, and that the public will not be repulsed by their avalanche of hate.

By contrast, it’s entirely logical that Romney wants to talk issues and policies. He’s a center-right politician running for the presidency in a center-right country. If he can make crystal clear his own views, as well as Obama’s positions, he figures he can win this thing. Obama apparently agrees that such a contest favors Romney; hence his mean-spirited, “shiny object” campaign.

The mainstream media always insist that we need a campaign about “the issues.” Funny, but their favored candidate would rather this election not be. Instead, they cheer Obama’s brazen search-and-destroy mission. We know about now how Obama is going to run the race and why. And we know precisely how the media will cover it.