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Michael Gerson: Stay classy

BY MICHAEL GERSON Published: November 21, 2012

Historians will be more confused by the Republican reaction. Less than four years after the fall of Lehman, the GOP standard-bearer was a venture capitalist who opposed the auto bailout and was building a dream home in La Jolla. Conservatives generally find Mitt Romney's business achievements meritorious. But stepping back a bit from ideology, it is remarkable that the Republican Party nominated a capitalist caricature to respond to an economic crisis created, in part, by capitalist caricatures.

More creativity needed

Obama pressed the class-based critique of Romney early and often in battleground states. The effectiveness of these attacks seems to have varied by state. But overall, Obama's strategy worked. Obama won by mobilizing his most enthusiastic supporters while dispiriting Romney's least enthusiastic backers.

For Republicans, the problem runs deeper than Romney's persona. The GOP's economic message is well past its 1980 expiration date. It is not enough to promote growth in an economy where a personal benefit from overall growth is far from assured. Economic mobility is increasingly connected to education, skills and strong families. The traditional, Republican, pro-business agenda is necessary, but it does not adequately grapple with these human needs — the prerequisites for personal prosperity.

Republicans like to defend economic success. They need to show more creativity in making economic advancement a realistic prospect — by promoting, say, high school and college completion, or increasing the rewards for work, or providing practical help to families with children. Moving forward, the GOP's task is not only to make capitalism more efficient; it is to make capitalism work for everyone.