A Czar for all reasons
By John D. Turner
18 Jun 2009

First it was a “Drug Czar”; an informal title given (by Joe Biden no less) in 1982 to the person selected by President Reagan oversee drug control policies in the United States. The name stuck, and since then, all such positions, appointed by various presidents, have been given the informal title “czar”.

While one might argue that in a democratic republic like the United States of America, the term “czar”, used in reference to any part of our government, particularly the executive branch, should be an oxymoron; in many respects it is frighteningly appropriate.

The “Drug Czar”, like all such governmental “czars”, serves at the pleasure of the President of the United States. The “czar” is not elected, and not accountable to the people, except inasmuch as their activities reflect on the President. The “czar” is not confirmed by Congress. There is no oversight on the “czar’s” activities.

Each czar comes with their own bureaucracy, to assist in the business to which they are assigned, which they are in charge of. The “Drug Czar” is actually the Director of National Drug Control Policy, the head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). As of mid-2006, ONDCP employed 111 people.

According to Wikipedia, in addition to running the ONDCP, the Drug Czar is also responsible for evaluating, coordinating, and overseeing the international and domestic anti-drug efforts of executive branch agencies, ensuring that such efforts sustain and complement State and local anti-drug activities. The director also advises the President on changes in the organization, management, budgeting, and personnel of federal agencies that affect U.S. anti-drug fighting efforts.

Sometimes, cabinet level officials are unofficially referred to as “czars”. For example, recent news articles proclaimed Arne Duncan as President Obama’s new “Education Czar”. In reality, she was nominated as the Secretary of Education. Making this more confusing, from 1988 to 2009, the position of “Drug Czar” has also been a cabinet-level position, but the office has never been known as the “Secretary of Drugs”. Mr. Obama has downgraded the position in his administration, although, according to administration officials, “nothing should be read into that change.”

So, in a nutshell, a “czar” is someone appointed by the President to accomplish or oversee some task assigned by the President. They report directly to the President and receive their direction from the President. They may or may not be a cabinet-level position. You can think of these as Presidential Executive Assistants, which is certainly a more politically correct title. You can tell that it is politically correct because it is long and unwieldy, rather than short and concise; having a much less pejorative context than the word “czar”, which implies someone who is unelected, unaccountable, wielding absolute power over their domain; which is pretty much the case, come to think of it.

Over the years, there have been a number of czars appointed. This administration has been particularly prolific in their appointment. Springing up like Roman Gods, it seems that there is no job that could not benefit by having a czar in charge. So far, as of June 2009, less than 6 months into his first term of office, President Obama has appointed no less than 17 (or 21, or 25, depending on how you count them and who is counting).

To be sure, not all of these “czars” have been designated as such by Mr. Obama. Some have been named by the media, some by detractors. One could make the argument however that by the definition of the term “czar” as it pertains to Executive branch functionaries appointed by the President, that all these qualify. Certainly it is a rather large and amazing, not to mention unprecedented, number of czars in any event. As the online magazine Foreign Policy notes, it now outnumbers the number of Czars produced by the Romanov line in Russia. And we all know how that turned out.

While some of these are existing “czardoms”, created by previous administrations, many are new. By the time I finally post this article, I expect that the list will have grown. Perhaps it is time to establish a new branch of government; a “House of Czars” to keep track of them all.

So if previous presidents have established “czars” to handle this and that, why should the sudden proliferation of czardoms be any cause for concern? Surely a president is entitled to appoint whomever they feel they need to take care of any problems that should arise? You can’t expect one person to be able to handle everything. And we are in the middle of numerous crises besetting our nation.

I think Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) put it best. It is his belief that czars are “a slick way of governing without having to answer to Congress.” Former Representative Ernest Istook (R-OK) thinks Obama is using the appointment of Czars to reinvent how the executive branch operates. He doesn’t like the term czar, because it is “too Russian.” What’s in a name? As Shakespeare said, “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

"We could just call somebody the big boss, el jefe, head honcho, the big cheese," said Istook. "My father used to refer to people as the chief cook and bottle washer."

Perhaps. On the other hand, perhaps calling them “czars” is a good idea. It reminds us that they stand outside our established system of government; that they are not provided for by the Constitution, which is supposed to be the blueprint for how our government operates. They are a kind of political Praetorian Guard; appointed by the President, controlled by the President, and accountable only to the President. They have the power to affect our lives in profound ways, and our elected representatives have no oversight over them.

One of the causes of our rebellion against England was taxation without representation. And yet, it is happening again today, with a tax proposed by the EPA on cattle and pigs. The reason? Emission of greenhouse gasses by the offending animals. Cows and pigs fart and belch, you know. The tax? $80/head of cattle, $20/head of swine. Per year.

Although the subject may seem funny, the tax is not. When was the last time you remember an election for EPA officials? How about never? Taxation without representation. Who exactly is your EPA rep and how do you contact them? How do you fire them? How do you hold them accountable for anything? How is it that they have the ability to levy taxes of any sort? Where is the EPA imbued with any powers or mentioned anywhere in the constitution?

No doubt, a “Cow Fart Czar” will be appointed to handle this odiferous issue.

Which brings up another yet another issue. When a “czar” was in charge of making sure that the minions in the Executive branch were doing their job properly, that was one thing. But when a czar begins making decisions on how we are going to live our life that is something else again. Since when has the Executive branch been imbued with the power to pass legislation? And yet, that is essentially what the “Pay Czar” will be doing.

Only for the rich, to be sure. And yet, I remind you that the income tax was originally intended to be only “for the rich” to pay. Guess I, and millions of other Americans, must be rich.

Could it be that the real objective for the Pay Czar is not to make sure that CEOs are properly punished for making too much money (although that is undoubtedly a goal), but rather to usher in yet another progressive ideal for ensuring social utopia, the concept of “comparable worth” in pay, which they have so far been unable to achieve by legislation?

Even if you think that maybe it would be a good idea for the government to determine what everyone should make, and that they were competent to be able to do so in the first place, please show me where, in the U.S. Constitution, the government is imbued with that power? Don’t bother. They aren’t. It isn’t there. And it won’t be there unless we are stupid enough to amend the Constitution to include such empowerment.

Or unless we just stand idly by and let presidentially appointed “czars” do so unchallenged.

Nevertheless, the president seems to think he has such power. Through the czars. Which are not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution either. And there are apparently 25 of them so far, give or take, this week anyhow.

Here in the United States, we do not elect a dictator (or Czar) to rule the country for the next four years. We elect a President, who has strictly delineated powers spelled out in a document we call the Constitution of the United States. In the United States, we have three branches of government, which do not overlap in the powers conferred upon them in that same document. Thus, the Executive does not have the power to legislate – that power is left to the Legislative branch, which also has the sole power to levy taxes. Thus says the Constitution.

The President, who is the head of the Executive branch, is not able to pass on powers he or she does not have to other minions whom he or she appoints. And yet, apparently that is what is occurring.

Congress beware! People of the United States, beware! If we ignore the Constitution, before too long we will find that we are electing a Czar every four years. And soon after that, we will be dispensing with the formality of an election as well.