While some would have us limit all discussions of income inequality to “quiet rooms,” I’m relieved to see that President Obama’s economic team feels differently.

What Mitt Romney a few days ago called “the bitter politics of envy,” President Obama’s chief economic adviser instead described Thursday as the basic economics of unequal opportunity.

As long as the rich keep getting richer and the middle class languishes, he said, the economy as a whole will suffer.

Alan B. Krueger, the chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers and an accomplished labor economist, presented chapter and verse of the administration’s understanding of income inequality, economic opportunity and the fortunes of the middle class in a speech to the Center for American Progress, a research group closely aligned with the administration’s viewpoint.

His theme: “Rising inequality has been bad for the U.S. economy.”

The full test of the speech is online here (pdf) and it’s well worth reading. Krueger isn’t an inspirational orator, but that’s really not the point here — this was the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers making a detailed case for closing the widening chasm between rich and poor.

Indeed, as far as Krueger is concerned, the future of the nation’s economic health depends on it.

Want to understand the differences between priorities of a Democratic and a Republican administration in 2013? This is an issue for the top of the list.

What’s more, the economist highlighted the right remedy to address these obscene wealth disparities: a commitment to “equality of opportunity” through, among other things, health care reform, safeguards to protect consumers against Wall Street recklessness, and the end of “unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthy.”

In contrast, in case anyone’s forgotten, every Republican presidential candidate intends to eliminate the entirety of the Affordable Care Act, give Wall Street free rein, and expand unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthy.

Regardless, the larger political point is hard to miss: President Obama fully intends to stick to the message he delivered in Osawatomie, when he argued that restoring economic balance and fairness is “the defining issue of our time.”

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.