But even with all those caveats in mind, there remains a good case for taking campaign promises seriously. And as reporters try—as they should—to discern how politicians might respond to important challenges that aren’t being discussed on the campaign trail, they should take the promises that are being made into account. If Obama wins re-election, after all, the budget endgame he seeks from the Taxmageddon standoff will be shaped by the leverage he can wield in negotiations with Congress—but also by his repeated promises not to raise taxes on middle-class households. (There will be partisan disputes about what counts as a tax for the purposes of the promise, of course, but Obama is unlikely to discard the pledge.) Limited as position papers and official statements may be, for journalists trying to get onto the “Reality Track”, they’re a good place to start.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.