". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Education Secretary: ‘We’re from the Government; We’re Here to Help’

November 29, 2023

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona should have stuck to his remarks as written while addressing the Western Governor Association in Jackson Hole, Wyo. earlier this month. Instead, he ad-libbed, “as — I think it was — President Reagan said, ‘We’re from the government; we’re here to help.’” He said it earnestly.

The quotation was nearly verbatim, yet totally mistaken. What Reagan actually said (at a 1986 press conference and elsewhere) was, “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”

The largest foreign policy issue of Reagan’s presidency was the ongoing Cold War with the other world superpower, the Stalinist U.S.S.R., and its then-sidekick, the Maoist People’s Republic of China (PRC). In pursuit of a communist utopia for workers, these two governments implemented policies that caused the deaths of more than 97 million of their own people (62 million in the U.S.S.R. and 35 million in the PRC) throughout the 20th century. That’s roughly equivalent to the population of 33 U.S. states today.

The largest domestic policy issue of Reagan’s presidency was tackling stubborn inflationary pressures caused in part by a massive government spending spree. From President Johnson’s War on Poverty to President Nixon’s agricultural price controls, Americans had endured decades of government interference in their lives that squandered the economic prosperity of the 1950s and early 1960s — all with the best of intentions. But, as Reagan diagnosed the problem in the very next sentence, “A great many of the current problems on the farm were caused by government-imposed embargoes and inflation, not to mention government’s long history of conflicting and haphazard policies.”

Reagan’s famous joke succinctly communicated the reality that government programs or regulations, initiated with the best of intentions, often cause more harm than good. It further communicates that well-intentioned programs are more sinister and damaging — “terrifying,” in fact — because their supposedly humanitarian nature makes them more difficult to reject or repeal.

Reagan achieved stunning electoral success — two landslide electoral victories — in part because he articulated the sentiments most Americans have toward government. We want government — aside from providing a few necessary services, such as security, stability, and public works — to simply stay out of the way and let us live our lives.

It turns out that people usually are better at making decisions for themselves than a central, governmental director is at making decisions for them. After all, they know their own needs, capacities, and preferences far more experientially and minutely than a bureaucrat to whom they are mere statistics.

While often applied in an economic context, the principle holds true in other areas of policy too. Individuals, families, and local communities are better than the federal government at determining policies related to education and family because they are closer to the situation.

The same administration that has targeted gas stoves, gas guzzlers, and “junk fees” also wants to control what vaccines are put into your arm, what opinions you can express online, and even what pronouns you use for a classmate or workmate. “American people have a very low view of government and the, quote, ‘experts’ that want to rule every aspect of their life. They can’t even figure out basic biology,” said U.S. Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.) on “Washington Watch.”

Enter Cardona, with the quip, “We’re from the government; we’re here to help,” as if that were a good thing.

Now, in context, Cardona was speaking to state governors, pledging to help them with the education needs in their states. Federal education secretaries must maintain a supporting role vis-à-vis state governments, since the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government no authority over education.

But federal education secretaries will still try to push their own agenda. Back in March, Cardona adopted a very different tone from “we’re here to help” when, in an op-ed published by the Tampa Bay Times, he blasted Florida’s education policies such as removing pornographic books from school libraries and preventing schools from lying to or hiding information from parents. Evidently, federal promises of support and assistance come with the asterisk, “if you do what we tell you.”

Despite the mitigating context, Cardona’s misapplication of the Reagan quote was a mistake. At the very least, “he didn’t realize what he was saying. Obviously, he doesn’t know his history,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, host of “Washington Watch.”

Yet it seems likely that Cardona really believed what he was saying. In conjunction with the rest of the Biden administration, he has led the Education Department in pushing radical policies to the LGBT agenda — which, considering that he leads the Education Department, often means pushing LGBT policies on children and families.

The Biden administration believes it is making historic strides in civil rights protections for an alphabet soup of identities rooted in sexual anarchy. In reality, degrading the civil rights of women, alienating Christians and other religious groups — which are actually protected classes — and affirming confused young people in harmful lifestyles. “Secretary Cardona has been promoting transgenders in girls’ athletics and in their locker rooms and their safe spaces. They are promoting just perverted literature in libraries, [and] going after parents and schools that want to resist,” Miller pointed out.

In one recent move, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a proposed rule that would require “state child welfare agencies to ‘ensure the availability of safe and appropriate placements and services for children in foster care who identify as LGBTQI+.’” Safe and appropriate placement for children sounds good. However, the rule’s actual effect is to force potential foster parents to affirm a child in an LGBT+ identity, thereby excluding from participation many Christian families who hold to the Bible’s teaching on sexuality and gender.

Miller and 12 other representatives pointed out in a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra that faith-based families are the most persistent, not to mention an overwhelming majority (82%), and that their exclusion would deepen the current foster family shortage. “Here we have the federal government, under the Biden administration, wanting to actually push more families out of the foster care system,” Perkins lamented. “They’ve proven they don’t care about children, and they don’t care about parents. They care about big government, and they have an agenda of total control,” Miller agreed.

In the case Fulton v. City of Philadelphia (2021), the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the city of Philadelphia had violated the free exercise clause by removing faith-based groups from its foster care program for no other reason than their biblical view of marriage. Yet, after this adverse ruling, the Biden administration is working even harder to exclude religious families from foster care or (more preferably, from their perspective) make them abandon their religious beliefs.

“What we do here in Washington, D.C. is just to keep the barbarians at bay so that the church and believers can do the work that they’ve been called to, to win hearts and minds of people,” said Perkins. “And this is the kind of stuff we’re talking about: going after Christian foster parents, keeping them from being able to provide a safe environment for children.”

The Biden administration has grandiose ambitions. It wants to implement a sweeping, new domestic agenda on the scale of the (not-so-)Great Society (you know, the one that destroyed the family, particularly the black family). It is shocked by any opposition, unable to comprehend the motive for naysaying its far-fetched schemes other than spite or “hate.” It believes its intentions are good, so who would want to stand in the way?

The Biden administration stands little chance of passing its transformative social agenda through the regular legislative process. Instead of the overwhelming congressional majorities enjoyed by LBJ, Biden has little to no wiggle room in Congress, such that a single member of his own party was able to put his daydreams on a leash. But — and here’s where the constitutional system of checks and balances has truly been broken — a narrowly divided Congress can do little to rein in executive rulemaking. The Biden administration is now trying to achieve social change through executive fiat.

What makes the Biden administration’s executive rulemaking so dangerous is that most rank-and-file bureaucrats align ideologically with his political appointees. Whereas, for instance, the Trump administration’s appointees had to wrestle their employees to achieve any positive executive action, the left-leaning machinery greases the wheels of left-leaning administrative rules. That means the Biden administration can conceivably do far more in four years than the next Republican administration can undo in the same amount of time.

The leftward slant of the federal bureaucracy has been a problem for decades — perhaps since its creation. It even survived during the Reagan administration, which was consciously aware of the problems with government overreach. Despite some notable achievements, such as airline deregulation and major tax cuts, Reagan was unable to completely roll back the federal bureaucracy established by his predecessors. In fact, any person who comes to D.C. to advocate for governmental restraint is going to face an uphill battle.

Of course, if executive agencies distrusted their own, unilateral actions and implemented new policies only cautiously, that would be one thing.

But, in the federal government, you’ll find far more philanthropy than humility — people convinced they’re doing good and unconvinced of any possible downsides. Welcome to Washington, D.C., where many people sincerely believe, “we’re from the government; we’re here to help.”

Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.