On economic policy, Barack Obama has left Mitt Romney an opening. The president has responded to a severe, continuing labor market slump with a four-year-old, marginally counterproductive tax increase proposal. His current economic agenda has little relevance to anything except his current political requirements: picking a political fight on tax-code equity to distract attention from his economic stewardship. It is the triumph of tactics and the surrender of seriousness. …

As a governing matter, encouraging social mobility could eventually be a unifying, bipartisan goal. As a political matter, it would provide Romney a particular advantage. Obama’s message is now in full Labor Party mode: Soak the rich. But the smartest Republican response is not to defend the rich. It is to defend a fluid society in which everyone has the possibility of becoming richer. Economic redistribution is not the answer, but economic growth is not sufficient, either. Upward mobility requires the broad diffusion of skills and social capital.

Romney, while disarmingly recognizing his own advantages, should demonstrate some market-oriented innovation in extending advantages to others: promoting early-childhood education, high school completion, college attendance and graduation, parenting skills and wealth-building among the disadvantaged. It would be a powerful political message, addressing a serious need, in a manner consistent with conservative ideals.