Excerpt: 'The Healing of America,' by T.R. Reid

So the problem isn't "socialism." The real problem with those foreign health care systems is that they're foreign. That offends the mind-set—sometimes referred to as American exceptionalism—that says our strong, wealthy, and enormously productive country is sui generis and doesn't need to borrow any ideas from the rest of the world. Anybody who dares to say that other countries do something better than we do is likely to be labeled unpatriotic or anti-American; I've run into that charge myself. Of course, this is nonsense. The real patriot, the person who genuinely loves his country, or college, or company, is the person who recognizes its problems and tries to fix them. Often, the best way to solve a problem is to study what other colleges, companies, or countries have done. And the fact is, Americans often do look overseas for good ideas. We have borrowed numerous foreign innovations that have become staples of American daily life: public broadcasting, text messaging, pizza, sushi, yoga, reality TV, The Office, and even American Idol.

The academics have a term for this approach to problem-solving: "comparative policy analysis." The patron saint of comparative policy analysis was an American military hero who went on to become our thirty-fourth president: Dwight D. Eisenhower. That's why this book is dedicated to his memory.

When Eisenhower became president, in 1953, the key domestic issue was the sorry state of the nation's transit infrastructure. Almost all major highways then were two-lane country roads designed primarily to get farmers' crops to the nearest market. Interstate travel was a torturous ordeal, marked by rickety bridges and long stretches of mud or gravel between intermittent paved sections. As postwar America embraced the automobile, it was clear that vast improvements were required. And most of the forty-eight states already had highway plans on the books. For the most part, those blueprints called for networks of two-lane highways that would run through the downtown Main Street of every city along the route. These were perfectly reasonable plans for the time. But Eisenhower, who recognized the value of comparative policy analysis, had a better idea.

As Supreme Allied Commander during World War II, Ike had commanded the long push by American and British soldiers toward Berlin after the D-day landings in June 1944. By the spring of 1945, the Allies had battled their way across France to Germany's western border. Eisenhower's strategic plan envisioned months of painful slogging across a shattered German countryside. But then his forward commanders reported an amazing discovery: a broad ribbon of highway, the best road system anybody had ever seen, stretching straight through the heart of Germany. This was the autobahn network, built in the 1930s, which featured four-lane highways; overpasses and ramped interchanges to avoid intersections; and rest areas for refueling every hundred miles or so. Once Eisenhower's trucks, tanks, and troop carriers found the superhighway, they moved much faster than Ike had planned. By early May of 1945, the war in Europe was over.

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