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Op-Ed Columnist

Backlash to the Backlash

Washington, DC

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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An interesting thought occurred to me today—what if small business owners sat down with ordinary people like you and me and ironed out some real solutions to our transportation crisis?

With the election season over, maybe you’ve forgotten about transportation, but I certainly haven’t. It would be easy to forget that the problem even exists, when our headlines are constantly splashed with the violence in Uganda, the authoritarian crackdown in Colombia and the still-unstable democratic transition in Cape Verde. But the transportation problem is growing, and politicians are more divided than ever. Republicans seem to think that transportation can just be ignored. Democratic politicians like Nancy Pelosi, on the other hand, seem to think that nonsensical rhetoric will substitute for a compromise.

But the Democratic party of Nancy Pelosi is not the Democratic party of Lyndon Johnson. Johnson wouldn’t stare down the opposition, he'd compromise because he'd understand that the fate of the country, and his own political career, depended on a lasting solution to the problem of transportation.

Let's make America for the world what Cape Canaveral was to America: the world's greatest launching pad. If I had fifteen minutes to pitch my idea to politicians, I'd tell them two things about transportation. First, there's no way around the issue unless we're prepared to spend more: and not just spend more, but spend smarter by investing in the kind of human capital that makes countries succeed. That's going to require some tax increases as well, but as they say, "When in Rome."

Second, I'd tell them to look at Norway, which all but solved its transportation crisis over the past decade. When I visited Norway in 2002, Tintin, the cabbie who drove me from the airport, couldn't stop telling me about how he had to take a fourth job because of the high cost of transportation. I caught up with Tintin in Oslo last year. Thanks to Norway's reformed approach toward transportation, Tintin has enough money in his pocket to finally be able to afford a swimming pool for his kids.

That's all it takes. Don't expect to see any solutions as long as fringe bloggers insist on playing a high-stakes game of ping pong with one another. America has to rise above it all.