The Bain Capital divide

September 6, 2012, 11:35 PM UTC

FORTUNE — Last week was Tampa. This week is Charlotte. My reason for being in both was to gauge delegate understanding of Bain Capital, and how that understanding impacted their opinions of a President Romney.

To be honest, I expected lots of crazy talk from both sides. Talk about how Bain was the greatest force for job creation since Henry Ford developed the assembly line, or how Romney used to buy companies just so that he could gleefully fire all of its employees. Words like savior and vampire. And yes, there was a bit of that.

But, for the most part, delegates of both parties displayed a fairly strong understanding of what Bain Capital is really all about: Making money for investors and itself by buying and selling companies. They both got that private equity is largely agnostic toward the issue of job creation, and that failure is sometimes part of doing business.

What was different, however, was how that mutual understanding translates to the voting booth.

For Republican delegates, Romney’s private equity experience has been his best selling point. His investments in a variety of different industry sectors means that he has a deep understanding of everything from retail to manufacturing to medical devices. And even his failed deals come with a silver lining, because he now knows what mistakes not to repeat. Moreover, he made his investors richer. Why wouldn’t he do the same for the American people?

For Democrats, however, Romney’s business success is viewed as largely irrelevant to the job of governing. Being president, they say, is about people rather than profit — and you can’t just shut America down and move onto the new thing if times get tough. The goal is to broadly help the most people possible, not to perform lucrative feats for a relatively select few.

The battle battle over Bain Capital isn’t really about the propriety of private equity, just like the 99% vs. 1% debate isn’t really about bashing the rich. It’s about competing visions of American government, policy and what types of life experiences we value most in our elected officials. It’s a worthy conversation that delegates on the convention floors are having, even if most of the convention speakers aren’t.

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