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Op-Ed Columnist

Time for Leadership

Washington, DC

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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An interesting thought occurred to me today—what if grassroots activists 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 Pakistan, the authoritarian crackdown in Lesotho and the still-unstable democratic transition in Gabon. But the healthcare problem is growing, and politicians are more divided than ever. Republicans seem to think that healthcare can just be ignored. Democratic politicians like Harry Reid, on the other hand, seem to think that unproductive 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 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 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, "Mo' money mo' problems."

Second, I'd tell them to look at Thailand, which all but solved its healthcare crisis over the past decade. When I visited Thailand in 2001, 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 healthcare. I caught up with Tintin in Bangkok last year. Thanks to Thailand'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.