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Op-Ed Columnist

Obama's Moment

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 healthcare crisis?

With the election season over, maybe you’ve forgotten about healthcare, 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 Swaziland, the authoritarian crackdown in Lebanon and the still-unstable democratic transition in Samoa. But the healthcare problem is growing, and politicians are more divided than ever. Democrats seem to think that healthcare can just be ignored. Republican politicians like Rand Paul, on the other hand, seem to think that shrill rhetoric will substitute for a solution.

But the Republican party of Rand Paul is not the Republican party of Ronald Reagan. Reagan wouldn’t just filibuster, he'd reach across the aisle because he'd understand that the fate of the country, and his own political career, depended on a lasting solution to the problem of healthcare.

It's good to see the talks between the president and congress getting off to a solid start, but we know there will be plenty of partisan fireworks before any deal is cut. If I had fifteen minutes to pitch my idea to politicians, I'd tell them two things about healthcare. 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 green energy 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 healthcare crisis over the past decade. When I visited Norway in 1998, Tintin, the cabbie who drove me from the airport, couldn't stop telling me about how he had to take a third job because of the high cost of healthcare. I caught up with Tintin in Oslo last year. Thanks to Norway's reformed approach toward healthcare, Tintin has enough money in his pocket to finally be able to afford an apartment 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 chess with one another. America has to rise above it all.