Election campaigns are supposed to clarify the choices facing voters - and the 1992 race for the presidency is finally starting to do just that.

This week President Bush appeared before the prestigious Detroit Economic Club and delivered a lean, coherent statement that integrates a number of ideas he has long championed and places him squarely at odds with the Democratic ticket.On some matters, Bush and challenger Bill Clinton are not very far apart. Both believe in more available health care, better education for children and life-long learning for adults, less federal bureaucracy, helping business, reforming welfare, reducing the influence of special interests and equipping the White House with the line-item veto.

Sadly, both offer plans that would still leave the country with an annual deficit in the neighborhood of $140 billion after 1996 even if their optimistic economic forecasts prove accurate - which they seldom do. Neither talks realistically about curbing health and other entitlements, which are at the root of the growth in federal spending. Spending on benefits is rising faster than population and inflation.

Likewise, both candidates fail to admit publicly that it's easier for presidents to make promises than it is to deliver on them, even when working with a Congress of their own party. The nation's lawmakers usually have their own agenda, individually and collectively.

Where Bush and Clinton part company involves, for the most part, matters of overall philosophy and outlook. Bush wants a government that taxes less, spends less and regulates less. Though Clinton is much more middle-of-the-road than past Democratic presidential nominees, he has advocated higher taxes on upper-income Americans and increased government spending to shore up the country's industrial base.

While Bush believes that government should not require private employers to provide family leave or health care for workers, Clinton is convinced that business won't meet such needs without federal prodding.

On trade, Bush wants American capitalism to embrace a global destiny. He would follow up the proposed new trade pact between the United States, Canada and Mexico with similar pacts involving Eastern Europe and the Pacific Basin. Clinton, by contrast, has provided only grudging support for trade talks with Mexico.

Though the economic programs of both Bush and Clinton are long on generalities and short on specifics, their plans are about as concrete as the public can expect during an election year. But politics isn't the only reason for the vagueness. A big factor is the big shift the United States and its trading partners are undergoing from decades of Cold War to a more peaceful condition, leaving the economic future more veiled than usual.

But one thing seems certain: Eventually - perhaps as soon as next year - the economy will turn around and start to grow again. Whoever is president will get the credit even though he won't deserve it any more than the occupant of the Oval Office merits the blame whenever the economy turns sour, usually for reasons of its own and having little to do with government or politics.