Editor’s Note: Meg Jacobs teaches history at Princeton University. Follow her on Twitter @MegJacobs100. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers. Read more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

President Joe Biden stands accused of playing politics with petroleum. His opponents say the reason he is releasing millions of barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is to bring prices at the pump down before the midterm elections. They might be right.

As public opinion polls reveal, the economy appears to be the top issue for voters.

Meg Jacobs

As we approach the midterms, more and more candidates, especially in the GOP, are running on anti-inflation platforms. It’s nothing new. That’s because battles over inflation — what’s the cause, who is to blame, what is there to do — get to basic fights over who should have what. Should corporations earn bigger profits, should workers earn higher wages and should consumers shoulder the burden of both?

The Federal Reserve is responding to the highest rate of inflation in 40 years, and economists are debating whether the Fed should keep raising rates or pause, trying to find the sweet spot and guide the economy toward a soft landing.

But there is a disconnect between debates over policy and the political dogfights over high prices. The public, and its representatives, are having a very different discussion. They see this economic phenomenon as a competition over who deserves what.

The GOP political action committee One Nation has spent millions in Georgia to unseat Sen. Raphael Warnock, saying he has supported “reckless spending,” which it blames for recent inflation. Warnock and other Democrats argued in favor of the economic rescue package as needed to help people cope with the pandemic, but as The New York Times reported, they’re wary of trumpeting that spending now as the GOP blames it for inflation. That, too, is nothing new.

In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the decorated World War II general and GOP presidential candidate, aired the first televised political ad. The theme was inflation. Is the high cost of living getting you down? In the ad, he talks to an “average” housewife, who complains that “high prices are just driving me crazy,” and Eisenhower promises to fight on her behalf. That was at a time when inflation was less than 2%!