Who said this — "I don't want the next generation of manufacturing jobs taking root in countries like China or Germany" —Romney or Obama? Early in the Republican primary campaign, China was the one subject Romney seemed genuinely agitated about. Imposing tariffs on Chinese goods was on the long list of things Romney said he was going to do on Day 1 of his presidency. Maybe he still is, but he doesn't play it up the way he used to.
Meanwhile, if Romney is a free trader at heart, faking a bit of protectionism, Obama seems to be a protectionist at heart, faking a belief in free trade. That quote in the previous paragraph is from Obama, and it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how markets work. Trade is not a zero-sum game. There isn't a certain number of manufacturing jobs that will either go to China or Germany, or come to us. We want China and Germany to have lots of manufacturing jobs. The more they have, the richer they are, the better off we will be as well. Beggar-thy-neighbor policies don't work.
It's probably all just talk. Obama campaigns like a crusading populist, then governs like a consensus-seeking moderate. This works well with an electorate that wants radical change as long as everything important — e.g., their monthly checks from the government — stays the same. And Romney clearly cannot be counted on by proponents of any side of any question.
Michael Kinsley, a former editorial page editor of The Times, is a Bloomberg View columnist.