Jonah Goldberg

Much like Obama, Bill Clinton barnstormed the country promising a middle-class tax cut. Once he got into the White House, that got filed under "never gonna happen." George H.W. Bush said "read my lips" about his plan to never, ever, ever raise taxes. It turned out that "never" is a term open to many interpretations.

Now, depending on your perspective, you might think such reversals are profiles in courage, and you might even be right. But the point is that it is juvenile to believe that voting for a president is synonymous with holding a referendum on a plan. And yet we have these interminable, often Jesuitical debates on what the fine print of the candidates' plans says. Journalistic fact-checkers take their jeweler's glasses to every footnote and appendix as if the ultimate merit of each candidate can be found in a binder.

Even worse, after every debate we are subjected to an endless parade of focused-grouped "swing voters" who think they're oh-so-terribly sophisticated for wanting to hear ever more details about this candidate's plan for education reform or that candidate's scheme for health care. It's all absurd intellectual vanity. These voters are undecided not because they haven't been spoon-fed enough policy detail, but because they haven't been paying attention and haven't bothered to do even minimal research about the candidates.

I'm not saying that candidates shouldn't have platforms. But voters - and journalists - should look at them as mission statements, not the political equivalent of instructions that come with a disassembled bicycle.

The real hints for how to choose a candidate, at least in a general election (as opposed to a primary), reside in the realm of judgment, philosophy, track record and temperament. And, using those criteria, the choice shouldn't be hard at all.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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