Let’s talk about the latest source of disingenuous, manufactured right-wing outrage– ‘czars.’
I have a number of thoughts about the practice of appointing ‘czars,’ as well as theright-wing nontroversy suddenly surrounding them:
There is no such thing as a ‘czar’
I know, I know, it seems like a ridiculous thing to say in a post about ‘czars,’ but bear with me here.
Nobody in Washington has a business card with ‘czar’ on it. ‘Czar’ is a colloquial, shorthand term used to describe individuals with either complicated job titles or titles that don’t reflect the special duties given to that person.
For instance, Ron Bloom is known as both the ‘car czar’ and the ‘manufacturing czar,’ but his two job titles are actually Leader on the U.S. Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry and Senior Counselor to the U.S. President for Manufacturing Policy, and Bloom is actually an employee of the Treasury Department.
David J. Hayes is known as the ‘California water czar,’ but he’s actually the Deputy Secretary of the Interior. Herb Allison is called the ‘TARP czar’ but is actually called the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Stability of the United States. Cass Sunstein is called the ‘regulatory czar’ but is actually the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
Those are just a handful of examples–The Washington Independent has more. My point is that there isn’t some kind of shady cabal or ‘shadow government’ of czars with made-up job titles and ill-defined responsibilities; the people known as ‘czars’ are officials such as deputy cabinet secretaries or assistant secretaries who occupy well-defined jobs.
There is no cohesive definition of ‘czar’
As I said before, ‘czar’ is a loosely-defined colloquial term used to describe the duties of a member of the Executive Branch who has been given some kind of special issue or area to focus on.
But the term ‘czar’ is applied to a number of different people in varying departments, of varying levels of authority, who focus on a wide variety of strongly divergent issues.
It’s not as if the people known as ‘czars’ are all part of one council that gets together and plots, despite what the paranoids on the right say. I would bet that most ‘czars’ have never met the other ‘czars,’ and even if they had it’s highly unlikely they ever actually worked alongside one another considering how wildly their issues diverge.
Which brings me to my next point–
‘Czar’ doesn’t equal not confirmed by Congress
If there is one thing that can be said about the term ‘czar,’ it’s that it doesn’t necessarily mean someone who was not confirmed by Congress. In fact, a number of people known as ‘czars’ did have to face Senate confirmation hearings–the aforementioned Cass Sunstein had a Senate confirmation hearing and even had to overcome a Republican filibuster to get appointed. John Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (aka the ‘Science czar’) also had to go through a Senate confirmation.
One of the major issues conservatives have with ‘czars’ is that the lack of Senate confirmation is, allegedly, unconstitutional. Obviously, the fact that a number of ‘czars’ do have to go through Senate confirmation undermines that point. Plus, nowhere in the constitution does it say that every single member of the Executive Branch requires Senatorial advice and consent.
And isn’t it funny how conservatives always talk about interpreting the constitution literally and complain about government bureaucracy, yet are willing to invent new constitutional guidelines and create more bureaucracy as long as it stymies a Democratic President.
The practice of appointing ‘czars’ go back to at least Franklin Roosevelt.
There is nothing new or controversial about a President assigning individuals particular issues or areas to focus on–in fact, the practice goes back to at least 1942, as Slate notes:
The newly benign term evolved again during World War II, when Roosevelt expanded the government rapidly and appointed a host of brand-new federal overseers. The Washington Post reported in 1942 on the sudden rush of “executive orders creating new czars to control various aspects of our wartime economy,” and a cartoon from that year shows “czar of prices” Leon Henderson, “czar of production” Donald Nelson, and “czar of ships” Emory S. Land all cramming onto one throne.
The appointment of ‘czars’ is a routine, bipartisan practice.
As the above Slate piece notes:
Nixon succumbed to czarmania, appointing the first “drug czar,” Jerome Jaffe, in 1971 (long before William Bennett took the mantle in 1988). But it was the title of “energy czar” that got the most attention during those days of OPEC embargoes and gas rationing. Though John A. Love first held the title in 1973, his more powerful successor William E. Simon really got the “czar” ball rolling.
Pretty much every single President since FDR, Republican or Democratic (with the possible exception of John Kennedy), has appointed ‘czars’ to their administration:
And that’s a pretty conservative estimate from what I’ve seen..
George W. Bush appointed as many ‘czars’–if not more–than Barack Obama.
While the chart up there says Barack Obama has 32 ‘czar’ positions in his administration, let’s take the GOP at their word and defer to GA Rep. Jack Kingston, who says Obama has 34.
Well, as The Washington Post reports:
Bush had 36 czar positions filled by 46 people during his eight years as president
In other words, even if you give the GOP the benefit of the doubt here, Barack Obama still has fewer ‘czars’ than George W. Bush. So why are ‘czars’ suddenly an issue now? Why weren’t they an issue back when Bush was President?
A number of conservatives have actually called for more ‘czars.’
According to The Hill:
Gibbs said GOP “silence was deafening” on the issue of czars during former President George W. Bush’s administration.
Republicans didn’t raise the issue, he said, when Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) pushed a Y2K czar or when Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) called for a manufacturing czar.
However, during the Bush administration, Fox’s Bill O’Reilly called for the appointment of an “immigration czar,” as well as a “charity czar” and a “disaster relief victims family czar.”
Conservative complaining about ‘czars’ is complete and utter nonsense, and it exposes conservatives as the craven self-interested political hypocrites that they truly are. No Republican had any problem whatsoever when George W. Bush appointed 36 ‘czars’ during his time as President, yet those same people are going crazy now that Barack Obama is doing the exact same thing.
Attacking Obama over ‘czars’ isn’t some kind of act of right-wing rebellion against the growth of governmental power or anything like that–it’s a sad and sorry attempt by right-wing activists to undermine a Democratic President, a self-defeating grasping-at-straws strategy to stymie Barack Obama’s legislative agenda.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–conservatives will say anything to attack President Obama, no matter how hypocritical or nonsensical. They are simply no longer a serious political movement, period.