"Economic patriotism" is a catchy phrase. Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, got noticed when he used it in his stemwinder of an attack on Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at the Democratic National Convention.
In one of his more cutting lines, Strickland said:
"Mitt Romney has so little economic patriotism that even his money needs a passport. It summers on the beaches of the Cayman Islands and winters on the slopes of the Swiss Alps."
Given how sensible the term "economic patriotism" will seem to many Americans, and the way it can be wielded as a political weapon against Romney, whose overseas investments have been an issue in the campaign, it was only a matter of time before President Obama borrowed the phrase.
The Obama campaign used the term in both a new two-minute campaign ad it released Wednesday, and in a campaign rally in Virginia Beach, Va., on the same day. Obama used the term three times.
Unlike Strickland, Obama didn't use the term in a blunt frontal attack on Romney. Instead, his criticism was more implied:
OBAMA: "You know, during — during campaign season, you always hear a lot about patriotism. Well, you know what? It's time for a new economic patriotism — an economic patriotism rooted in the belief that growing our economy begins with a strong and thriving middle class."
In the ad, after Obama ticks through the four major points of his economic plan, he says:
"It's time for a new economic patriotism, rooted in the belief that growing our economy begins with a strong, thriving middle class ..."
Expect to hear more of this phrase from the president, especially during the presidential debates, the first of which is Wednesday, Oct. 3.
Judging by the context in which the president has used it, economic patriotism encompasses everything from the rescue of the U.S. auto industry, to investments in renewable energy, to Obama's call for the superwealthy to pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes.
But the term also raises questions. Money flows across international borders now more than ever. Indeed, the ability of money to readily move to safe havens and get the best returns increasingly defines the global economy.
Given that reality, if U.S. companies and investors choose to invest money abroad or have operations overseas, are such companies and investors betraying American interests because they're not necessarily creating jobs for middle-class Americans?
If Apple Inc. makes its products overseas, and BMW and Honda make their products for American consumers in the U.S., does that make those foreign companies more economically patriotic than Apple?
Perhaps these and similar questions will be asked in the upcoming presidential debates or in interviews journalists have with the president, to understand the ways in which he may define economic patriotism.