From an interview Mitt Romney did with CBS News last week:
Scott Pelley: You're asking the American people to hire you as president of the United States. They'd like to hear some specifics.
Romney: Well, I can tell them specifically what my policy looks like. I will not raise taxes on middle-income folks. I will not lower the share of taxes paid by high-income individuals. And I will make sure that we bring down rates, we limit deductions and exemptions so we can keep the progressivity in the code, and we encourage growth in jobs.
Pelley: And the devil's in the details, though. What are we talking about, the mortgage deduction, the charitable deduction?
Romney: The devil's in the details. The angel is in the policy, which is creating more jobs.
Pelly: You have heard the criticism, I'm sure, that your campaign can be vague about some things. And I wonder if this isn't precisely one of those things?
Romney: It's very much consistent with my experience as a governor which is, if you want to work together with people across the aisle, you lay out your principles and your policy, you work together with them, but you don't hand them a complete document and say, "Here, take this or leave it.".
What is Romney using "the devil's in the details" to mean?
"The devil is in the details" is a relatively new expression, which first turns up in the 1970's. It's a turn on "God is in the details," which is sometimes attributed to Flaubert and is famously associated with Mies van der Rohe.
But the version with "God" offers an aesthetic observation about the importance of technique (it recalls Pope's "True Wit is Nature to advantage dress'd/ What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd"). Whereas the "devil" version recommends a cautionary attitude toward sweeping proposals or generalities—roughly, "read the fine print."
FTC Fact Sheet: The Devil’s in the Details. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Read the fine print?” Basically, the fine print has the details (the terms and conditions) of a deal—often important things you should know about.
Verizon's new Share Everything Plans: The devil's in the details. Some insights buried in footnotes could help customers decide (Computerworld)
The Devil's in the Details: It's the little things that make a huge difference when it comes to delivering clicks, calls and visits to your store or website. (Target Marketing Magazine)
Romney's "devil in the details, angels in the policy" version, though, is offered as a justification for not going into detail about his tax plan, as if God sided with the nonspecific. But he has used the expression in its traditional sense in the past:
"…big community celebrations are great fun…" said Romney, president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. Instead, Romney was spending his time on details, details and details, following the advice of new IOC President Jacques Rogge on a visit to Salt Lake the day before. "The devil is in the details, and we have a mountain of minutiae ahead of us," Romney told reporters Wednesday, marking the day with a news conference. ("Salt Lake still striving for 'squeaky clean' formula," AP, March 5, 1999)
Inconsistent? Perhaps, but as we've so often stressed here at Language Log, language changes, and we're not about to be prescriptivists about it.