Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 7, 2009

IT'S A MEANINGLESS WORD, ANYWAY.... The right-wing drive to target the Obama administration's use of "czars" seems to be catching on among Republican lawmakers. On Fox News yesterday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said the president's use of czars is "an affront to the Constitution."

I did some research last night, trying to find examples of Lamar Alexander criticizing the Bush administration's use of czars. After all, Bush/Cheney not only kept some of the czars left over from the Clinton and the H.W. Bush administrations, but also oversaw the creation of a "food safety czar," a "cybersecurity czar," a "regulatory czar," an "AIDS czar," a "manufacturing czar," an "intelligence czar," a "bird-flu czar," and a "Katrina czar." If Alexander is concerned about this "proliferation" of czars, surely he raised some concerns during the previous administration.

Except he didn't. As far as I can tell, Alexander never said a word. Apparently, Republican czars are fine; Democratic czars are un-American. Just because. Good to know.

I think I have a solution to this meaningless dust-up: stop using the word "czar." It's a meaningless word, anyway. It's not as if there's a single person in the executive branch with the word "czar" in their formal title -- it's just a colloquial political euphemism.

Take this report from last night, for example, and notice the "c" word isn't in it.

President Obama has named Ron Bloom as the administration's senior counselor for manufacturing policy, the White House said Sunday night. The announcement came ahead of Mr. Obama's planned remarks at the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s annual Labor Day picnic in Cincinnati.

Since February, Mr. Bloom has been a senior adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. He sits on the president's automotive industry task force. The White House said Mr. Bloom would continue that position and would expand his role to coordinate the administration's manufacturing policy with the Commerce, Treasury, Energy and Labor departments.

The White House said Mr. Bloom would work with the National Economic Council to help lead policy development and strategic planning for "the president's agenda to revitalize the manufacturing sector."

Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? The president wants a special focus on the U.S. manufacturing sector, so he'll have a senior advisor who'll help oversee the White House manufacturing policy.

So, is Bloom the new "manufacturing czar" (a position created by George W. Bush)? Only if we choose to use the phrase. The alternative is to say that Ron Bloom will be advising the president on manufacturing policy. The "c" word has been deemed scary, but the job description is innocuous.

This has broad applicability. The president has a "Guantanamo closure czar"? No, he has a guy at the Pentagon whose focus is on closing the detention facility there. There's nothing "czarist" about it. The president has a "Mideast peace czar"? No, he has a guy whose job it is to focus on negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. The president has a "Great Lakes czar"? No, he has a guy heading up the administration's efforts to improve water quality in the Great Lakes.

None of these jobs are controversial. It only becomes "an affront to the Constitution" when it's made to sound unnecessarily nefarious.

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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The real problems arise when they have policy Rasputins;>

Does this opposition to the czars make the Republicans the Bolshivecs?

And does anyone have czar-like powers? Or even a really cool uniform?

Posted by: martin on September 7, 2009 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

I'm waiting for former drug czar and gambling addict Bill Bennett to join the insanity parade.

Posted by: Speed on September 7, 2009 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans, even in Congress are now merely mumbling among themselves in a cloud of code words and epithets that become more meaningless with each utterance.

The fear that drives them is the fear that these advisor's will aid in the success of the President and successes of citizens of the United States of America. They are absolutely terrified that the Stimulus will create jobs. And they are mortified of the possibility of the US joining most of the civilized world and taking care of its health care. Republicans now seem engaged in a public negative thinking campaign, but sadly this is treated by the media as news.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on September 7, 2009 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

just what's the god damn problem, really Lamar -- you candy-ass tennessee toad...

you having troubles stimulating enough crazy talk to keep the demented discourse going in the direction of sucksessful obstructionism without ceaselessly hitting the stoopid button?

as i remember, lamar, you were a god damn czar yourself -- edjukashun -- even tho book-larnin' was illegal in tennessee until the 1950s...

just about everybody in the united states senate is a clown car czar

Posted by: neill on September 7, 2009 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

Remember how the rightwing swooned over our first CEO/MBA President? I gather they believe that CEOs are micromanagers, knowing everying about their company and making every significant decision for it. (This is consistent with American business mythology, at least.) My impression, though, is that a lot of successful people are successful because they know when and what to delegate.

Posted by: RSA on September 7, 2009 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

One almost prefers to keep using the term so the opposition will continue to say stupid stuff like this instead of moving quickly to the next looney talking point. Besides, should Democrats really allow Republicans to determine which words may be used by the current administration? I think not.

What we really need is a massive, national media campaign pointing out all the ways the opposition has demeaned the national debate. The campaign should not be sponsored by the administration; in fact, it might help if the President went on record weakly protesting it.

Posted by: Harlow Wilcox on September 7, 2009 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Harlow Wilcox said:
What we really need is a massive, national media campaign pointing out all the ways the opposition has demeaned the national debate.

Sound like they need a counter-propaganda czar.

(Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Posted by: SteveT on September 7, 2009 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

"One almost prefers to keep using the term so the opposition will continue to say stupid stuff like this-"

Well said, Harlow Wilcox!

-Tit for tat: The Republican buzzword "Democrat" Party- because they know/think it pisses us off. . .

Posted by: DAY on September 7, 2009 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

Wikipedia states that "czar is a media term to refer to appointed executive branch officials. The criteria for inclusion on a list of czars is only one reference from a journalist or headline editor is required to create a czarship."
So, in reality, it is easier than using the employees' actual title for the media. WashPost uses it frequently.
At least 10 of Obama's czars have high enough positions that they have already been confirmed by the Senate. Beck has a list "of the next 3 czars they are going after" and 2 of them are confirmed so it will not be quite as easy to villify a confirmed official, providing they haven't signed a 9/11 truther petition or supported a Black Panther who is on death row for killing a policeman.
It looks like Bush had 36 czars, but appointed 46 during his admin.; while Obama currently has 32, but has appointed 34 so far, but 2 have left, if the Wiki page is correct.

Posted by: cat on September 7, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Contrary, hyberbolic overreaction, a typical, and predictable, response from an Authoritarian politician.

Call Mr. Lamarr what he is, a scared individual who has no business serving in a democracy.

Posted by: Al B Tross on September 7, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Dear Harlow Wilcox:

And how, pray tell, would you fund that "nation-wide media campaign" to expose the propaganda techniques of the right wing republicans? You couldn't just call up your local talk radio station, because calls are screened and non-right wing callers are not allowed on the public airwaves. Now, I do know that there are a few "progressive shows," but their broadcast reach is small and the people who are being indoctrinated are also being told not to trust any media outlet except that of the right wing.

So how would you "bell the cat?" Talk is cheap... Unless you are a "progressive" who would have to buy airtime on the public airwaves to get any message across to any wide audience. How much would it cost to reach for one hour the 20 million people whom Rush Limbaugh reaches in one hour...and he has 15 of those hours a week?

This blogging deploring the incredible success of the republican right wing is also know as "spitting in the wind."

Posted by: joanneinDenver on September 7, 2009 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

I find it hard to improve upon the ideas of Harlow Wilcox . A baby cries for a reason , which can be addressed . The right wing is not quite up to shouldering the responsibility level of infants , crying for a reason which can be attended to .
This somehow is not worth mentioning . Like Somerby's liberals who don't connect the trashing of Clinton and Gore their murder lists and "troubling" nonexistant lies . Perhaps we need another forty years of crude corporate interests doubletalking to get motivated ?
The enabling from "journalists" who fail to connect hostile language to any earth tethered meaning , has that nothing to do with those big fat paychecks they receive ? Paychecks written by the interests which support the very same angry doubletalk overlooked by the owners of those big fat paychecks ?

Posted by: FRP on September 7, 2009 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

I seem to remember that Nixon had an Energy czar.

Posted by: Bob on September 7, 2009 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

George Bush's CZARS, 2001-Jan. 2009

Intelligence Czar (2 Czars: John Negroponte & John Michael McConnell)
Manufacturing Czar (2 Czars: Albert Frink & William G. Sutton)
Policy Czar (Micahel Gerson)
Public Diplomacy Czar (2 Czars: Karen Hughes & James Glassman)
Reading Czar (G. Reid Lyon)
Regulatory Czar (2 Czars: John D. Graham & Susan Dudley)
Science Czar (John Marburger)
Terrorism Czar (3 Czars: Richard A. Clarke, Wayne Downing, John O. Brennan)
War Czar (Douglas Lute)

Posted by: msmolly on September 7, 2009 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

OOPS. Top of list got cut off. Sorry
Abstinence Czar (Randal Tobias)
AIDS Czar (4 Czars: Scott Evertz, Joe ONeill, Carol Thompson, Jeffrey Crowley)
Bank Bailout Czar (Neel Kashkari)
Bioethics Czar ( Leon Kass)
Bird flu Czar (Stewart Simonson)
Birth control czar (Erik Keroack)
Budget czar (3 Czars: Mitchell Daniels, Joshua Bolton, Rob Portman)
Clean Up Czar (2 Czars: Jessie Roberson & James Rispoli)
Communications Czar (Dan Bartlett)
Cyber Security Czar, Cyber Czar (2 Czars: Richard Clarke, Rod Beckstrom)
Democracy Czar (Elliott Abrams)
Domestic Policy Czar (Karl Rove)
Drug Czar (John P. Walters)
Faith-Based Czar, Faith Czar (4 Czars: Don Willett, John Dilulio, Jim Towey, Jay Hein)
Food Safety Czar (David W.K. Acheson)
Global AIDS Czar (2 Czars: Randall Tobias, Mark Dybul)
Health Czar for WTC, World Trade Center Health Czar (John Howard)
Health IT Czar (David Brailer)
Homeland Security Czar (Michael Chertoff)
Homeless Czar, Homelessness Czar (Phil Mangano)
Gulf Coast Reconstruction Czar, Hurricane Katrina Recovery Czar (Donald E. Powell)

Posted by: msmolly on September 7, 2009 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

and a drug policy czar, iirc.
and i'm old enough to remember that i thought calling them czars was pretty stupid back then. still is.

Posted by: mellowjohn on September 7, 2009 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

I did some research last night, trying to find examples of Lamar Alexander criticizing the Bush administration's use of czars.

Alexander has been in politics for a long time. He worked for the first President to name czars, Richard Nixon. He also said nothing when Gerald Ford had them. And also during the Reagan administration.

It's a shame to see him play this pathetic game.

Posted by: K on September 7, 2009 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

ya hoo! and thanks for sharing that despondency
over yonder in denver, joanne!

i also plan a visit back to north carolina next year, where i plan to spit on jesse helms' grave...

i'll post a spittin' pic on the internets...

Posted by: neill on September 7, 2009 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

This is their way to sabotage the Obama administration.

Posted by: Micheline on September 7, 2009 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

This is SUCH BS. I think we should just call them out. This is the same crap they pulled with the word 'liberal'...it wasn't until the unwashed masses started saying 'we LIKE being LIBERALS' that they started calling us socialists. It will never stop until we stand up and call them on their garbage....LIBERAL media where ARE you?

Posted by: SYSPROG on September 7, 2009 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

Stopping a baby from crying , you give them what they want . Babies however actually want something real .
Stopping a right wing anti logic campaign is unpossible , either logically or illogically .

Posted by: FRP on September 7, 2009 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

No, he has a guy heading up the administration's efforts to improve water quality in the Great Lakes.

In fact, he isn't even "heading up" any "efforts" at all. As somebody pointed out here yesterday, the tsars are just "low level" advisors. Like Nicholas II, today's tsars are weaker than previous tsars.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on September 7, 2009 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps the Republicans would prefer 'Comissar'?

Posted by: J on September 7, 2009 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

SYSPROG writes:"This is SUCH BS. I think we should just call them out."

Yes, yes, and who exactly is "WE"? Other that us folks here, I don't know who 'we' is. Certainly not the MSM. Rachel Maddow is often the lone voice 'calling them out'. Bill Moyer sometimes. But for firepower equal to Limbaugh, you have to go to the entertainment world of Jon Stewart and Bill Maher.

Used to be 'reporters' reported the facts. Now they just read whatever spin is on their teleprompters. . .

Posted by: DAY on September 7, 2009 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

This is only one more example of demonizing the Democratics. When Republicans have "czars," that's perfectly ok, of course.

Frankly, I'd like to see the use of the word stopped. I always hated it, because it's original meaning is an emperor or king or an autocratic ruler or leader.

Posted by: winddancer on September 7, 2009 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

Czar was always a stupid term. It is not like any of them have any actual authority. A more accurate term would have been 'Drug Constitutional Monarch'.

All show and no dough. Like in all things government (and most things everywhere) the rule is 'Follow the Money'. And mostly these Czars don't have any.

Posted by: Bruce Webb on September 7, 2009 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

The Thugs are good at creating controversy and creating catch phrases to target their opponents and distract from issues on which they are vulnerable. The Dems need to do the same. Get the focus off this "czar" silliness by giving the talking heads another gimmicky issue they can ramble on incoherently about.

I suggest that the Dems do a Rethuglican Health Care Report Card. Show the failures of the southern thug governors and compare them to the liberal states. Grade each state on abortions, infant mortality, teen pregnancy, life span, doctors per capita, et cetera. Put THEM on the spot instead of always playing defense. I am so TIRED of Dems on defense!

Posted by: candideinnc on September 7, 2009 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

Let's not forget Woody Allen's observation that "The Russian revolution simmered for years and suddenly erupted when the serfs finally realised that the Czar and the Tsar were the same person."

Posted by: Rand Careaga on September 7, 2009 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

the repugs stick together like flies on sh%t. I thought the dems under Obama might learn something from observing the repugs over the last 30 years but they haven't learned a thing. the only way to deal with the repugs now is to completely ignore them,pass the needed legislation and let the chips fall where they may. the way things are now the dems are going to lose a hell of alot of seats in Congress in 2010 anyway due to their ineffectiveness to get much of anything done beause of their constant capitulation to the pressure of the repug lies, etc.

Posted by: chris on September 7, 2009 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

Correction to neill, Lamar was Czar for the Edjumakation. Before that he walked across the state of Tennessee in a flannel shirt so he was perfectly qualified.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on September 7, 2009 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

candideinnc -- Why wait? We can make one for ourselves and put it out there. Stats are here: http://www.americashealthrankings.org/2008/pdfs/2008_whole.pdf
In fact, I may noodle around with this a bit and see what I come up with. If you're interested in kicking some ideas around with me, lemme know.

Posted by: CWC on September 7, 2009 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

I wasn't fond of applying the word czar when Nixon began the practice, because it is a rather stupid use of the word, with inappropriately dictatorial overtones.

Could we simultaneously push for a three-fer and agree to drop all future uses of the suffix "-gate" to suggest a scandal, and any further use of "war" (war on cancer, war on drugs) unless it involves a lot of high explosives or espionage?

(Or maybe we could gin up a gigantic controversy over this, and make a movie about it - we could call it "Tsargate".)

Posted by: N.Wells on September 7, 2009 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

@ N.Wells, I abhor your suggestion, and therefore I commit myself to the War On Tsargate.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on September 7, 2009 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

There's a typically wonderful episode of the BBC's Yes, Minister that covers this.

If they don't like "czar" you can always use "supremo". That should really get the fuckwits frothing.

Whenever I see or hear these Republicans I wonder what kind of moron could possibly vote to give them a ticket on the gravy train.

Posted by: Squeaky McCrinkle on September 7, 2009 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

It's Russian, of course, from the Latin "caesar", which makes its use in a 21st-century democracy somewhat less creepy than using "crusade" while 200,000 U.S. troops head for southwest Asia.

The upside on continuing to use "czar" is that the administration retains the delicious option of calling a female officeholder a "czarina."

Posted by: Jim on September 7, 2009 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

It's death by a thousand cuts.

Unfortuantely, the only way to get the word out is to use one of the right's own filthy tactics: make up an email and spam everyone you know with it and hope they pass it on. I know, it's icky, but consider this:

I heard a guy on NPR the other day who was yelling vile personal insults at pro-reform demonstrators. One older lady said, "That's not very nice!" and he told the reporter, "I'm not trying to be nice, I want to win!" He apparently (and the right in general) are following a book written by Olansky on tactics. Do we want to win bad enough? That is the question.

Posted by: Always Hopeful on September 7, 2009 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Apparently the point of yelling vile insults is to get on TV. Unless we reform the media so they don't flock to the loudest mouths, this will get them air time. Same with Lamar. As long as they are saying insane things they will get on TV. Some people will believe the crap and those that don't? Well, that's just time taken up that real facts don't get out.

Chain emails function the same way.

Posted by: Always Hopeful on September 7, 2009 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

Here's a different suggestion. Point out that Lamar Alexander is a hypocritical prick and leave it at that. The "czar" word is short-hand the stupid press can understand, and they will be loathe to let go of it. Dropping the term because of some vibrating by the wingnuts is just another example of reacting to the stupid. As soon as you abandon the use of "czar" to placate them, the sooner they will take offense at some other previously innocuous term or phrase. It is about finding a proxy for their inability to accept the election results of last November. There will never be an end to it as long as we react to their assinine complaints and paranoia.

Posted by: TuiMel on September 7, 2009 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

If the Republican's message is propaganda then the Democrats about Bush must have been also, just from the other side of the mouth! However, Democrats like to believe it all was true. The political people we are hearing from today are professional mouth pieces from either side. Rarely do you hear a fresh idea, just smut and ideas that are not good for the majority. Get back to the Constitution! And be A Republic we can be proud of, THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Posted by: Ruby on September 7, 2009 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

Ruby, that's false equivalence I can believe in!

Posted by: Rupert Murdoch on September 7, 2009 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

The fact that the right-wing blogs are blathering about semantics is, well shall we say, Biz-czar!

The great circus of American Politics is losing it's entertainment value.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on September 7, 2009 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

"Stop calling my dog a 'bitch'". Just when you think these repukes couldn't get any more ridiculous...boom. Such feeble attempts to demonize a democratic president...wouldn't matter if it is Obama or whoever...this minority just cannot accept being overruled by the majority.

It's a one sided democracy with them...nothing counts unless they have the reigns of power in their hands...even to the point of having a revolution or destroying the nation because after all, what good is the nation if democrats are in control?

Republicans are making themselves intolerable to our democracy.

BTW...with the Bush administration it was all true as we are constantly finding out today...the most corrupt disastrous administration of modern times that nearly destroyed our nation is evidenced by our current situation so it's not "well, both sides do it etc...." wrong...one side literally is destructive to the nation and will continue to drag it down if allowed to regain power.

Posted by: bjobotts on September 7, 2009 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

"...the repugs stick together like flies on sh%t..."-chris

Yes, but how many liberals are in the republican party? While there are plenty of conservadems or republican lites calling themselves dems. The Democratic party has two factions...while the republican party has gone batshit crazy.

The only 2 parties even capable of representing our democracy anymore are the democratic party.

Posted by: bjobotts on September 7, 2009 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

Not even the Russians have czars any more, and I always thought the term (in its recent reincarnation) was a creation of the media rather than that of a public official. In any case, dropping it altogether would signal another in the series of petty Republican "victories", so the thing to do would be to make fun of them for their childishness. Appoint a Republican Relations Czar, and make it somebody they hate. That'd be pretty much any Democrat.

Posted by: Mark on September 7, 2009 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

"Czar" has always been a press colloquialism, but at one point it actually had a specific meaning. It referred to officials who were appointed to coordinate various elements of the bureaucracy in relation to a specific set of issues - drugs and energy for example.

Now the term seems to be used for anyone appointed for a specific task, which explains the increase in the number of "czars." It's not that there are more cars, it's just that we call more people by that name.

The irony is that the word czar carries a connotation of autocratic power when nothing could be further from the truth. Most "czars" have become very frustrated at their inability to move the entrenched bureaucracy.

Posted by: Virginia on September 7, 2009 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK

This morning on Fox News they were rattling on about Van Jones, and at the point they were taking a break and going to commercial, they put up a graphic with pics of the various czars and played music for several seconds, and I'd bet money they were playing the communist anthem the Internationale...so clever. They are now flat out propaganda.

Posted by: Cathy on September 7, 2009 at 8:29 PM | PERMALINK

Please check: jacksonville.com (The Jacksonville NEWS-LEADER) and read their editorial from Sunday, 9-6-09 regarding the "Czars" It appears to be written by Rep. Jack Kingston of GA and is truly worth reading. I responded with a letter to the Editor.

Posted by: John Bertsch on September 7, 2009 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: John Bertsch on September 7, 2009 at 9:31 PM | PERMALINK

ya hoo! and thanks for sharing that despondency
over yonder in denver, joanne!

Thank you, Neill. I will despond if I want to. I think the situation calls for it.

If we have one party control of the airwaves, then there is no way to counteract the propaganda of that party. Period.

If you have any answers, please speak up. If not, leave me be....and act the nice southern gentleman whom I am sure you are.

Posted by: joanneinDenver on September 7, 2009 at 9:52 PM | PERMALINK

mainstream media with their 24 hour news cycle routinely and shamelessly corrupt the truth.
Lamar Alexander can squawk all he wants, no one should give him a soapbox to stand on.

Posted by: rab on September 7, 2009 at 10:27 PM | PERMALINK

To rab: Re this comment;
mainstream media with their 24 hour news cycle routinely and shamelessly corrupt the truth

Examples please. Would you also define "mainstream media"...would that include the 1200 radio stations which Clear Channel owns? Why or why not?

Points will be taken off for spelling errors.

Posted by: JoanneinDenver on September 8, 2009 at 12:19 AM | PERMALINK

WTF? Seriously? This is all they have? Semantic rhetoric about words that have been in use by the media and both parties FOR DECADES????????

My friends the Republican party has been taken over by idiots. Call me Captain Obvious.

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Reading so many articles about it... To be afraid, or not?

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