If there’s a “must-read” online today, it’s probably Tim Fernholz’s article for The American Prospect on the ever-increasing need for the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress to start setting out realistic benchmarks for accomplishments between now and November 2010.
Improving on the incompetence of the Bush administration isn’t that hard. But at some point, Democrats must point to new expectations and meet them. Fernholz suggests three areas where new benchmarks are particularly urgent: “economic stimulus” measures, foreclosure prevention initiatives, and the war in Afghanistan. In the first area, measurements for success are hazy; in the second, accomplishments don’t meet the administration’s own goals; and in the third, what we are measuring in terms of strategic objectives has changed.
Here’s Fernholz’s cautionary conclusion:
All three of these cases demonstrate the challenge of translating simple policy goals — fight the recession, prevent foreclosures, and win a war — into complex government programs. The fact that solving these public problems is difficult doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be tackled; the government is the only institution capable of tackling them. But walking the fine line between measures that mean something and numbers that mean votes can be a difficult one. If the president and Democrats in Congress want to keep being the Party of Government and not just the party that likes government, they need to figure out how to be good executives as well as good legislators, and prove it.