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Op-Ed Columnist

Go Big, Mr. Obama

Washington, DC

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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Imagine if academics sat down with ordinary people like you and me and ironed out some real solutions to our gas prices crisis.

With the election season over, maybe you’ve forgotten about gas prices, 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 Guinea-Bissau, the authoritarian crackdown in Slovakia and the still-unstable democratic transition in Oman. But the gas prices problem is growing, and politicians are more divided than ever. Democrats seem to think that gas prices can just be ignored. Republican politicians like Mitch McConnell, on the other hand, seem to think that nonsensical rhetoric will substitute for a solution.

But the Republican party of Mitch McConnell is not the Republican party of Lincoln. Lincoln wouldn’t just filibuster, he'd break ranks with members of his own party because he'd understand that the fate of the country, and his own political career, depended on a lasting solution to the problem of gas prices.

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 gas prices. First, there's no way around the issue unless we're prepared to spend less: and not just spend less, but spend smarter by investing in the kind of human capital that makes countries succeed. That's going to require some tax cuts as well, but as they say, "Ya gotta get down to brass tacks."

Second, I'd tell them to look at China, which all but solved its gas prices crisis over the past decade. When I visited China in 1998, Kiki, 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 gas prices. I caught up with Kiki in Shanghai last year. Thanks to China's reformed approach toward gas prices, Kiki has enough money in his pocket to finally be able to afford a smartphone for his kids.

That's all it takes. Don't expect to see any solutions as long as politicians insist on playing a high-stakes game of backgammon with one another. America's got to call a time-out.