The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman returns to familiar ground in contrasting the staggering ambition of China’s infrastructure program with America’s failure to invest in big public projects.

He describes four of China’s multibillion-dollar, long-term efforts: a network of ultramodern airports; DNA sequencing and genome research; a high-speed rail network; and a $15 billion investment in the electric car industry.

In contrast:

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Not to worry. America today also has its own multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing moon shot: fixing Afghanistan.

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… We’re out of balance — the balance between security and prosperity. We need to be in a race with China, not just Al Qaeda.

It’s a solid piece, with one exception:

Europe is using $7-a-gallon gasoline to stimulate the market for electric cars; China is using $5-a-gallon and naming electric cars as one of the industrial pillars for its five-year growth plan. And America? President Obama has directed stimulus money at electric cars, but he is unwilling to do the one thing that would create the sustained consumer pull required to grow an electric car industry here: raise taxes on gasoline.

Let’s put blame where it belongs. Obama isn’t trying to raise the gasoline tax because conservatives have made it next to impossible to talk about raising taxes of any sort. Even phasing out tax breaks for millionaires might prove beyond the ability of Congress this fall — forget taking on something as pocketbook-sensitive as gas taxes.

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Consider how absurd our current political situation is: We can’t even talk about half the equation of doing government. Politicians can appear at ribbon-cutting ceremonies for spending projects; they can promise spending “cuts” without specifying what they’d cut; but it’s suicidal for them to remind voters that it takes money to build rail lines or airports or a world-class education system. No wonder China and Europe are outpacing us.

(Want another example of our ambition deficit? The Times’ Tom Zeller Jr. reports on the industry of super-efficient “passive” building construction. Some 25,000 certified passive schools, houses, apartment buildings, and commercial buildings have been built in Europe. The U.S. has certified just 13.)