Fact Check

Did US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona Say, 'We're from the Government, and We're Here To Help'?

U.S. President Ronald Reagan once said, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."

Published Nov 28, 2023

Image Via BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images
Speaking before the Western Governor's Association in November 2023, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said, "I think it was President Reagan said, 'We are from the government. We are here to help.'"

U.S. President Ronald Reagan actually said, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."

In late November 2023, a video clip made the social media rounds in which U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona made the following statement: "I think it was President Reagan said, 'We are from the government. We are here to help.'"

As many who saw the video pointed out, Cardona's quotation was neither verbatim nor in the sarcastic spirit of former President Ronald Reagan's full, original remark:

The viral clip accurately captured what Cardona said at a meeting of the Western Governors Association on Nov. 8, 2023. The immediate context of his remarks, in which he discussed, among other things, the federal government partnering with state governments to improve educational outcomes, was as follows (documented in C-SPAN's coverage of the event):

Let's not waste this opportunity. That's my point. And I'm excited about the potential when we work together. I encourage W.G.A. to push us, ask questions. We'll set up shop. We'll travel to you. Dr. Herring is right here. Lisa, the one I was talking about. We are going to set up follow-up calls with every governor we met with to make sure we are available. I think it was President Reagan said, "We are from the government, and we are here to help." There are resources there. There is technical assistance there, and a playbook that could support the work you are doing. Count on us as a partner in this. Our students are waiting. Thank you.

Reagan actually did say something quite close to this during a news conference on Aug. 12, 1986, but as was observed by a great many people who viewed the Cardona clip, the president framed it quite differently and was making an entirely different point:

Amid general prosperity that has brought record employment, rising incomes, and the lowest inflation in more than 20 years, some sectors of our farm economy are hurting, and their anguish is a concern to all Americans. I think you all know that I've always felt the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help. 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. Our ultimate goal, of course, is economic independence for agriculture, and through steps like the tax reform bill, we seek to return farming to real farmers.

Reagan, a conservative, essentially believed that the less the federal government does, the better. He is famous for saying during his 1981 inaugural address, "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem."

Cardona, obviously, paraphrased Reagan's ironic "I'm here to help" line in a context that stripped it of its irony. Political pundits accused him of "butchering" or "misappropriating" the quote, which is fair to say he did. The unanswered question, for now, is whether he did so knowingly or not.

We have reached out to the Cardona's press office to pose that very question and await a response.


Department of Education Priorities | C-SPAN.Org. https://www.c-span.org/video/?531707-1/department-education-priorities. Accessed 28 Nov. 2023.

Dr. Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Education -- Biography. 2 May 2023, https://www2.ed.gov/news/staff/bios/cardona.html.

“Education Secretary Miguel Cardona Misappropriates Famous Reagan Quote to Tout Big Government.” Washington Examiner, 28 Nov. 2023, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/education/education-secretary-misappropriates-famous-reagan-quote-tout-big-government.

“Inaugural Address 1981.” Ronald Reagan, https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/archives/speech/inaugural-address-1981. Accessed 28 Nov. 2023.

Leeman, Zachary. “Education Secretary Mocked After Butchering Reagan Quote: ‘We’re From the Government and We’re Here to Help.’” The Messenger, 28 Nov. 2023, https://themessenger.com/politics/miguel-cardona-ronald-reagan-government-help.

News Conference - I’m Here to Help. https://www.reaganfoundation.org/ronald-reagan/reagan-quotes-speeches/news-conference-1/. Accessed 28 Nov. 2023.

David Emery is a West Coast-based writer and editor with 25 years of experience fact-checking rumors, hoaxes, and contemporary legends.