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Op-Ed Columnist

This is a Big Deal

Washington, DC

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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Imagine if industrial giants 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 South Sudan, the authoritarian crackdown in Kyrgyzstan and the still-unstable democratic transition in Lesotho. 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 Harry Reid, on the other hand, seem to think that shrill rhetoric will substitute for a compromise.

But the Democratic party of Harry Reid is not the Democratic party of Franklin Roosevelt. FDR wouldn’t just filibuster, 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, "them's the breaks."

Second, I'd tell them to look at Sweden, which all but solved its transportation crisis over the past decade. When I visited Sweden in 1998, Tintin, 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 transportation. I caught up with Tintin in Stockholm last year. Thanks to Sweden's reformed approach toward transportation, Tintin has enough money in his pocket to finally be able to afford a playground 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 poker with one another. America has to rise above it all.