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How do you hold government accountable?

Via the Economist blog, Ezra Klein wrote about holding the government accountable for its actions:

“There are no benchmarks for success, no metrics that control our troop levels or departure. If al Qaeda is strong and sectarian violence is high, we have to stay and fight. If al Qaeda is weak and sectarian violence is low, we have to stay and protect those gains. It’s heads we stay, tails we never leave.”

Now, I am going to replace the military/war terms with another government body.

There are no benchmarks for success, no metrics that control our commitment to current education policy or departure. If schools are failing and student scores are low, we have to stay and fight. If schools are succeeding and student scores are high, we have to stay and protect those gains. It’s heads we stay, tails we never leave.

Bottom line, liberals want to leave Iraq, and have turned to metrics, or the lack of appropriate metrics to measure improvement or success. What’s more, is that the rallying call for Dems has been setting a deadline for the locals to get their act together before we say they are on their own — despite the immense human cost that would come if they prove less adept at minimizing violence. The conservatives have taken the other side.

Meanwhile, back in the ol’ US of A, Dems are decrying the metrics, standards, and deadlines set for public schools and saying we need to double-down on public education and “stay the course.” Republicans are flip-flopping right along with the Dems, as tough love suddenly makes sense.

What’s the real issue here? Well, on the surface, it’s just two parties playing politics with issues of massive importance by whatever means possible.

At the core, however, is a debate about how you best manage government programs. I am not saying you have to think metrics/deadlines/tough love are the answer to education if you think that’s the case for Iraq, but I would like to move past the ad-hoc justifications for previously held positions (for/against the war, for/against privatizing education), and focus on the crucial point of contention that applies to both the war in Iraq and education — how do you hold a government agency accountable when the agency and its supporters are going to say all will be lost if you don’t let them continue to work as they see fit, in spite of worsening or improving results.

Of course, one difference between Iraq and public school is that if the US gov’t were to leave, it would be easier for the people suffering in public school to leave, while even harder for Iraqis. I’ll finish with a tangent link, as Megan McArdle argues the prevention of Iraqi immigration to the US is a mark of national shame; I think she’s right of course. If all this talk has you wanting to hear a conservative say they were wrong about Iraq, check out Megan’s pretty funny response to an attack from the left, where she admits her mistakes, but clearly hasn’t lost her backbone.

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Filed under: General Welfare

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