In 1904, Ida Tarbell wrote "The History of the Standard Oil Company," painting oil magnate John D. Rockefeller as a capitalist without conscience, a "money-mad ... hypocrite." "Our national life is on every side distinctly poorer, uglier, meaner, for the kind of influence he exercises."
In 1906, Upton Sinclair penned "The Jungle," a novel depicting the horrors of the stockyards and meat-packing plants of Chicago.
Teddy Roosevelt said of these reformers, "The men with the muck rakes are often indispensable to the well-being of society, but only if they know when to stop raking the muck."
Yet T.R. himself took up the role of trustbuster. When J.P. Morgan wrote to him to protest Justice Department moves against one of his trusts -- "Just send your man to my man and we can fix it up" -- T.R.'s man at Justice retorted, "We don't want to fix it up; we want to stop it."
Teddy Roosevelt savaged the "malefactors of great wealth," and his cousin Franklin would echo him on taking office, denouncing "the money changers ... in the temple of our civilization."
They hate me, exulted FDR, "and I welcome their hatred!" He went on to crush and almost wipe out the Republican Party in 1936.
At the end of the Reagan era, which the left had decried, "Barbarians at the Gate" was published, portraying the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts as a manifestation of colossal greed.
Michael Lewis -- author of "Liar's Poker," about the fall of Salomon Brothers, and "The Big Short" -- has built a successful career describing the amorality at the apex of corporate America.
Today, President Barack Obama, with his Osawatomie, Kan., attack on "breathtaking greed," channeling T.R., seeks to insert himself in that populist tradition.
Undeniably, Americans cherish their economic freedom and respect the men who helped make America great, inventors such as Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison and industrialists such as Henry Ford.
But they do not revere the men who make millions and billions at the big casinos of capitalism. They do not admire a George Soros for winning his billion-dollar bet shorting the British pound.
They believe that a man's professional, as well as private, life should be guided by a conscience. And because they recoil from the teachings of Karl Marx does not mean they embrace the values of Ayn Rand.
Let-the-devil-take-the-hindmost capitalism, economic Darwinism, is neither conservatism nor Americanism.
Should Mitt Romney be nominated, he will need to make a national address defending his career at Bain Capital with the same conviction and passion with which he defended his faith in the campaign of 2008.