With a scenic river behind him and a Lake Wobegon crowd in front, President Obama couldn't have chosen a more picturesque setting than Cannon Falls, Minn., to kick off a three-day Midwestern bus tour on Monday.

What the day lacked was any evidence that the president has a substantive plan for boosting the nation's sagging economy.

Indeed, Obama's appearance was more of a political rally, with verbal volleys directed at his Republican rivals.

It's "not election season yet,'' Obama told the crowd, but it sure sounded like it.

Not that the president was wrong on many of his points, especially when he assessed the rigid ideology that led GOP presidential aspirants to reject a 10-1 cuts-to-revenue formula to tackle the national debt.

"I mean, that's just not common sense," Obama rightly said.

The president also bemoaned "broken" partisan politics. "The question is, can we break out of that pattern?" he asked, seemingly still searching for an answer himself.

The challenge for Obama is not politics but policy.

Americans are hungry for creative and bold economic initiatives -- not symbolic bus tours and campaign sound bites. And campaigning against Washington always works better when the candidate doesn't already live in the White House.

Obama needs to nudge the national narrative away from austerity and instead get Congress and the country to focus on the most immediate crisis: unemployment.

The small proposals he mentioned Monday -- renewing payroll tax cuts, an infrastructure bank and incentives for hiring vets -- are worthy ideas that don't come close to matching the proportion of the problem. For millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans, stronger action is needed.

If nothing else, he should put the entire administration's muscle behind creating conditions for businesses to expand and hire.

In Minnesota, for instance, Obama could have chosen to visit one of the Twin Cities' innovative medical device manufacturers to highlight efforts to reduce the uncertainties the industry faces in bringing new devices to market.

Medical firms are facing regulatory paralysis after the panel tasked with streamlining the approval process for many moderate-risk devices proposed scrapping the current clearance process and starting over.

That's a good jobs policy -- for Europe. Countries overseas have a more predictable approval process, and jobs are likely to follow.

By focusing on cutting red tape, Obama also could have displayed the kind of bipartisanship that he complains is a Washington scarcity and worked with Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen, who along with Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken has taken steps to help an industry that is so vital to Minnesota.

Back in Washington, Obama faces the rabid anti-tax element in Congress that put the nation within hours of defaulting on its debt. He needs to practice the art of the possible.

Why not propose an even more dramatic payroll tax cut, or even eliminate the tax temporarily to stimulate spending and, as a result, hiring? Either move would be difficult for the GOP to oppose.

For now, Obama should leave the 2012 campaign politics to those seeking to replace him and focus on getting Americans back to work.

Hopping off a bus long enough to take a few swings at the GOP makes for wonderful photos, but it does nothing to aid the economy.

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