Speaking at the 2023 Winter Meeting of the Western Governors Association in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Cardona laid out the ways in which he hoped the Biden administration could partner with governors and states to advance their education goals. At the end of his speech, Cardona quoted Reagan, seemingly unaware of the quote’s true meaning.
“I think it was President Reagan who said, ‘We’re from the government. We’re here to help!'” Cardona said.
Cardona’s version of Reagan’s quote excluded important context. The full quote from Reagan reads, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
Reagan made the comment in August 1986 to emphasize the dangers of big government, and its tendency “to be inefficient to such a degree that instead of helping, it often causes harm instead,” according to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.
Conservatives were quick to point out the irony of Cardona’s gaffe.
“The Education Secretary gets a failing grade,” tweeted GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy. “Fire him & shut it down.”
Mollie Hemingway, editor-in-chief of The Federalist, joked, “I actually find it chef’s kiss perfect that the Education Secretary is this ignorant of history.”
Tommy Schultz, CEO of the American Federation for Children, added: “Once you realize this is who is in charge of government education, our horrific literacy rates actually make total sense.”
Cardona was confirmed as education secretary in March 2021. He previously worked as a fourth-grade teacher in Connecticut before working as a principal, assistant superintendent and commissioner of education in the Constitution State.
He has frequently come under criticism from Republicans for enforcing controversial education policies, including President Joe Biden’s student loan amnesty plan and executive guidance that requires government-funded schools to accept students’ “gender identities.”