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J. Peder Zane Opinion: The Era of ‘Just Do It’ Government

Tim Scott did the impossible at the second Republican presidential debate: he made me nostalgic for the politics of President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

This was not the intent of South Carolina’s junior senator, as he condemned LBJ for creating programs during the 1960s that continue to undermine the very people they promised to help. “Black families survived slavery,” Scott said. “We survived poll taxes and literacy tests. We survived discrimination being woven into the laws of our country. What was hard to survive was Johnson’s Great Society, where they decided to put money – where they decided to take the black father out of the household to get a check in the mail. And you can now measure that in unemployment, in crime, in devastation.”

While agreeing with Scott’s critique, which also applies to many poor whites, I couldn’t help but contrast Johnson’s approach to governing with that of our current president, who sees himself as the second coming of LBJ as he seeks to radically transform our country.

Johnson and his allies set forth a series of goals – including ending poverty while reducing crime, dependence on government, and teen pregnancy – which they promised to achieve through specific programs. Much of it proved to be a pipe dream, but at least they presented the American people with a series of plans and measurable outcomes.

President Biden and his Democratic allies, by contrast, have made little effort to define the aims of their transformative agenda beyond the platitudes of the leftwing social justice movement. They have provided almost no means of testing its outcomes. Jettisoning LBJ’s traditional understanding of leadership – which sought to persuade through explanation: Here’s what we want to do, why we’re doing it and what we will achieve – they have embraced a Nike approach to power: Just do it!

As a result, they are ushering in an era of never-apologize, never-explain government. Consider:

Through a broad range of policies, the Biden administration has encouraged millions of migrants fleeing poverty and violence to cross the southern border and settle in our land. Yet the president has never said why this is good for America, or when enough is enough. If we’ve taken in 4 million migrants during the last few years, why not 40 million? Biden has also turned a deaf ear to the pleas from mayors of cities run by leaders from his own party, including New York, Chicago, and Denver, for help. How come? Who knows? He’s not saying.

A palpable fear now grips those in cities that refuse to prosecute a host of crimes while adopting policies that make it easier for Americans to destroy themselves by openly using drugs and living on the streets. Perhaps we locked up too many people in the past, but how is this strategy making us a more perfect union? How come? Who knows? He’s not saying.

That union is becoming ever more fragile as the administration pursues a “whole of government approach” to race-based equity and inclusion, further splintering our fractured nation as it demonizes those who oppose its radical efforts as transphobic extremists and white supremacists. Given the shortcomings of the Great Society approach Biden is doubling down on, why will it be different this time? How come? Who knows? He’s not saying.

Casting climate change as an “existential crisis” – i.e., it will kill us all – Biden has pledged to end our reliance on fossil fuels before babies born today finish college. While it has passed robust rules and regulations to transform gas-powered cars, stoves, and other artifacts of modern life into museum pieces, the administration has shared no plan detailing how it will acquire the millions of acres of land required by the solar fans and wind turbines that will power the green economy. How will we turn on the lights when the well runs dry? How come? Who knows? He’s not saying.

In fairness, we do know some things. The impulse driving the progressive agenda is clear: a vision of America as a fallen state that must atone for the sins of racism and capitalism. But government is not religion. It should be a practical, secular system designed to weigh the benefits and costs of our intentions. The redeemers now in power are largely ignoring such complex trade-offs, seemingly content to impose their version of truth and justice on the country, whatever the price.

The administration’s refusal to engage in honest conversation with voters about its actual policies is a threat to democracy. The American experiment has long endured because our leaders have, by and large, felt obliged to tell the people what they’re up to. Today, such communication is seen as a hindrance. Just do it.

As it avoids open dialogue about its intentions, the Biden administration is striving to silence those who question its actions by labeling dissent as “misinformation” and “disinformation.” Instead of a robust marketplace of ideas, it is trying to create a political landscape defined not by discussion or debate but the power of the state to do as it pleases. Just do it!

J. Peder Zane is a RealClearInvestigations editor and columnist. He previously worked as a book review editor and book columnist for the News & Observer (Raleigh), where his writing won several national honors. Zane has also worked at the New York Times and taught writing at Duke University and Saint Augustine’s University. This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.


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