With a stroke of the pen on April 21, President Clinton signed one of those all-too-common “executive orders.”

It used to be that Congress made the laws in this country. The president merely singed them or vetoed them. But, in recent years, presidents have made sweeping changes in public policy by issuing executive orders — often secretly and without congressional approval or oversight.

Such was the case last April when Clinton decided parents and the private sector weren’t smart enough to care for children’s safety without more intervention by the federal government nannies.

But the more ominous aspect of this particular order was not what it did, but what it undid. Stuck at the end of the document was an obtuse, unexplained statement that read: “Executive Order #12606 of September 2, 1987, is revoked.”

What is Executive Order #12606? I thought you’d want to know. It turns out 12606 was an order signed by President Reagan in 1984. Unlike many executive orders of recent years, this one was actually intended to prevent government from taking certain actions. Specifically it prohibited government (at least in theory) from doing anything before answering seven specific questions:

  1. Does this action by government strengthen or erode the stability of the family and, particularly, the marital commitment?

  2. Does this action strengthen or erode the authority and rights of parents in the education, nurture and supervision of their children?

  3. Does this action help the family perform its functions, or does it substitute governmental activity for the activity?

  4. Does this action by government increase or decrease family earnings? Do the proposed benefits of this action justify the impact on the family budget?

  5. Can this activity be carried out by a lower level of government or by the family itself?

  6. What message, intended or otherwise, does this program send to the public concerning the status of the family?

  7. What message does it send to young people concerning the relationship between their behavior, their personal responsibility and the norms of our society?

Isn’t that an amazing series of questions? Can you imagine anything like that even being discussed in the White House today? Is there anything even remotely controversial about them?

The beauty of Reagan’s 1984 executive order was that it was very much in the spirit of the founding of this nation. The Constitution of the United States is a simple and relatively brief document that restricts and limits the sphere of the federal government. That’s just what Reagan had in mind in Executive Order #12606. The order illustrates the fundamental difference in philosophy between a super-statist like Bill Clinton, who acts as if no one is safe unless they are being constantly watched and directed by federal administrators, and a constitutionalist like Reagan, who had faith in people and families.

While clearly this well-intended list of questions has never really been applied to most federal government actions for the last 13 years, you have to wonder why President Clinton would feel so strongly about scrapping the policy — and, even more to the point, doing it secretly. What does he have in mind? What hideous policy is he about to unveil to us? Or will it be in the form of a secretive executive order?

According to Dr. James Dobson’s organization, the early spin being put on the issue by the White House goes like this: “The new executive order, which deals with environmental issues and children’s health, makes the protection of families unnecessary.”

Uh-huh. That’s not going to fly. The spinmeisters in the White House can do a lot better than that. There’s more here than meets the eye. I believe the administration has something up its sleeve — perhaps, another sweeping and monumental proposal on the order of Hillary’s health care-style initiative — that would conflict so severely with this Reagan order that it was deemed wise just to sweep it quietly under the rug.

Anyway, it’s a good question for President Clinton’s next press conference. Don’t you think? Anybody got the guts?

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.