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Op-Ed Columnist

Two Worlds Cracking Up

Washington, DC

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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An interesting thought occurred to me today—what if academics 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 Kazakhstan, the authoritarian crackdown in Jordan and the still-unstable democratic transition in Samoa. 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 solution.

But the Democratic party of Harry Reid is not the Democratic party of Franklin Roosevelt. FDR wouldn’t refuse to budge, 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 transportation.

The first rule of holes is that when you're in one, stop digging. When you're in three, bring a lot of shovels. 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 green energy that makes countries succeed. That's going to require some tax increases as well, but as they say, "Mo' money mo' problems."

Second, I'd tell them to look at China, which all but solved its transportation crisis over the past decade. When I visited China 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 transportation. I caught up with Tintin in Shanghai last year. Thanks to China's reformed approach toward transportation, Tintin has enough money in his pocket to finally be able to afford winter coats 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 has to rise above it all.