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Op-Ed Columnist

One for the Country

Washington, DC

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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Imagine if small business owners 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 Zimbabwe, the authoritarian crackdown in Kiribati and the still-unstable democratic transition in China. 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 Marco Rubio, on the other hand, seem to think that shrill rhetoric will substitute for a argument.

But the Republican party of Marco Rubio is not the Republican party of Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt wouldn’t refuse to budge, 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.

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 gas prices. 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, "Ain't nothing to it but to do it."

Second, I'd tell them to look at Finland, which all but solved its gas prices crisis over the past decade. When I visited Finland in 1998, Mbantu, the cabbie who drove me from the airport, couldn't stop telling me about how he had to take a second job because of the high cost of gas prices. I caught up with Mbantu in Helsinki last year. Thanks to Finland's reformed approach toward gas prices, Mbantu has enough money in his pocket to finally be able to afford a soccer ball 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 backgammon with one another. America has to become a first world country again.