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Op-Ed Columnist

Why Nations Fail

Washington, DC

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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An interesting thought occurred to me today—what if Tea Party politicians 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 Cambodia, the authoritarian crackdown in Angola and the still-unstable democratic transition in Timor-Leste. 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 unproductive rhetoric will substitute for a argument.

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

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 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, "Ya gotta get down to brass tacks."

Second, I'd tell them to look at Denmark, which all but solved its transportation crisis over the past decade. When I visited Denmark in 1998, Bartho, 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 transportation. I caught up with Bartho in Copenhagen last year. Thanks to Denmark's reformed approach toward transportation, Bartho 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 chess with one another. America has to become a first world country again.