Progressive commentators would have us believe that only crazies would oppose the Department of Education, yet it was the New York Times and Washington Post who denounced the plan when it was first proposed by President Jimmy Carter. The Times opposed Carter’s plan from the outset. In an editorial entitled, “The High Price of Cheapening the Cabinet” (January 16, 1978), they wrote:
The president is reported ready to propose creation of a Cabinet-level Department of Education. We hope the report is wrong; or that the Administration can be persuaded to change course. It is an empty, even harmful idea, bad for the President, bad for the Cabinet, bad for education…. The success of one interest group seeking Cabinet status would surely encourage others who seek a Department of Environment, a Department of Women, a Department of Children, a Department of Older Americans…. The issue should be education, not bureaucratic trappings.
The Times also editorialized against the new department just days before its creation (“Centralizing Education Is No Reform,” May 22, 1979):
Any day now, it will be up to the House to stop President Carter’s proposal for a separate Department of Education… The idea remains as unwise as when it was first broached in a Carter campaign promise to the National Education Association…. The N.E.A. which represents mainly elementary and secondary school teachers, cannot be faulted for lobbying hard in favor of a department it expects will concentrate on the protection of its interests. But the second largest teachers’ organization, the American Federation of Teachers, adamantly opposed the idea, indicating that there is no unanimity on the issue even among instructors…
Vice President Mondale rationalizes his support for a separate department on the grounds that the United States is “the only major industrial democracy in the world that does not have a department or a ministry of education.” But it has always been American policy, alone among those nations, deliberately to avoid centralizing education in a way that requires direction and financing by a national ministry…. We believe that diversity of direction has served American education well and that it will continue to do better without a central bureaucracy, even a benign one. American education needs many reforms but a separate Department of Education is not one of them.
The Washington Post wrote of the plan, “President Carter has given Washington a new kind of undercover power politics. It’s called government reorganization” (Education Fight: ‘Turf’ Politics of Reorganization,’ Jan. 17, 1978). After the president fired several cabinet members including Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Joseph Califano, for vigorously opposing Carter’s attempt to form an education department, the Post called the firing, a “political Jonestown… You can’t tell whether the President is being big and tough or small and mean.” After Carter was reported to have accused Califano of convincing the Post to come out against the DOE, the Post‘s editorial team sarcastically responded (“Wherein We Confess All,” July 23, 1979):
The thing about Washington is that it is even worse than Jimmy Carter and [White House Press Secretary] Jody Powell think it is. Impossible, you say. But you are wrong. For the truth is that people in this benighted town not only fall into Grievous Error, but also persist in it, sometimes for as much as a quarter of a century or more. Worse (can there be worse?), some of these people have even refused to see the Error of Their Ways when Jimmy Carter and Jody Powell no less told them they were wrong….
We will come clean… there’s no point blaming Mr. Califano for our lapse. We are, in fact, hardened criminals, hopeless recidivists and probably–why mince words?–incorrigibles. We have been fighting the creation of a separate Department of Education since 1953. There. We said it. We feel better already. Permit us to continue this cleansing confession… We have opposed this turkey of an idea with the regularity of a cuckoo clock.
I wonder if they’d be willing to make the same confession today.