The disclaimers are more than a little disingenuous, since Mr Obama often does seem to suggest that financiers are greedy wreckers from whom America’s economy must be saved. But that aside, and in spite of the Republicans’ bluster, his rhetoric is hardly illegitimate or extreme. America’s middle class is struggling. Median incomes are stagnant, while the rich have been getting richer. It is easy to argue that the average Joe is not getting a fair shake—or at least not the same shake he used to. The question is whether voters care most about that, or whether they simply want to see the economy humming again, equitably or not.
In that case, the election will revolve not around fairness, but competence. Mr Romney is fond of saying that Mr Obama has no idea how the economy works and how jobs are created. The way the Obama campaign talks about Bain Capital suggests that his criticism is correct. Mr Obama, as noted above, likes to insinuate that there is a conflict between pursuing profits and creating jobs. In the long run, however, in a competitive economy, that is nonsense. Only profitable firms can sustain any jobs, and the more profitable they are, the more money they have to invest in new ventures with new workers. Mr Obama is guilty not of rhetorical excess but of economic muddle. That is far more worrying.