The Politics of Failure

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It’s always been a little odd the way that there is only one U.S. federal department that uses its ineffectiveness as a major speaking point.

No matter what’s going on in the news, the secretary of the treasury would never say the U.S. economic system is a failure. The secretary of defense would not say the U.S. military is so terrible that it loses all its wars. This is not the case with the U.S. secretary of education, who loves to talk about the horrible problems in U.S. education. According to a piece in Inside Higher Ed:

Margaret Spellings, the former U.S. education secretary, made it clear that she didn’t just want to pour more Americans into “this broken system” of higher education, language that will resonate with those who followed her administration’s policies and rhetoric. “We need a higher education system that’s more responsive to the market place…. One of the things we’ve never asked much of higher education is accountability, and some results orientation.”

This language, oddly enough, occurred at a debate on Feb 26 in which Spellings argued that the U.S. workforce needs more college graduates

Spellings, George W. Bush’s education secretary from 2005-2009, actually frequently used the sort of language that in any other profession might be interpreted to mean “I’m not very good at my job.”

This Apocalypse talk, however, actually appears to be standard no matter who’s serving as education secretary. Rod Paige talked like this. So does Arne Duncan.

Enough of this language. Take responsibility. It’s your department. Don’t worry; there are plenty of people out there willing to let the secretary of education know if something isn’t going well.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer