Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Enough with the "czars" already!

The Wall Street Journal writes about the rise of appointed "czars" within the White House.

On Monday, Mr. Obama will name former Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner as a White House energy czar, along with other officials to head the Energy Department and EPA. Over the weekend, he announced New York City housing commissioner Shaun Donovan as his secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and he is also planning to name an urban-affairs czar to work out of the White House, likely Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion.

He has already named an economic czar, former Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker, to look at big-picture economic issues -- while he also has a Council of Economic Advisers, a National Economic Council and a large Treasury Department right next door.

He has made former Sen. Tom Daschle a health czar of sorts, in addition to making him secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Congress came close to creating a car czar, and even though that legislation died, the idea could return. And public interest groups are lobbying for a consumer czar.
And there's also "the drug czar, The Iraq War Czar, a proposed Import Czar and let’s not forget the AIDS Czar" and Clinton's call for a poverty Czar.

Ok, look. "Czar" is a derivation of the imperial title of Caesar. It makes about as much sense to be appointing Czars in America as it would to appoint Kings or Dukes. Indeed, the revolutionary founders of this nation as children dreamed of being Roman statesmen and considered the ending of the Roman Republic by Julius Caesar to be one of history's greatest tragedies - and Ceasar one of history's greatest villains! From Thomas Paine by Craig Nelson

The Roman Republic was so idolized, in fact, that the moderns considered Julius Caesar (who, they believed, ended it) one of the greatest villain in world history, a tyrant so vile that the most painful epithet hurled at Washington during his tumultuous second term as president would be "American Caesar!"
These founders decided against regal titles for the new nation's elected officers in order to signify a move away from aristocracy towards democracy and meritocracy: a proposal of a title of "czar" - and most especially a war czar - for any position would have been unthinkable, blasphemous.

This stuff is important because it conditions the way we think about ourselves in relation to government and its function; we shouldn't be getting used to the idea of having people with the title of an emperor running various aspects of the federal government. The WSJ notes that 'the problem is that "czars" are meant to be all-powerful people who can rise above the problems that plague the federal agencies, he said, but in the end, they can't.' The "problem" alluded to is one of functionality, that the czars aren't able to do their jobs, but to me the real and larger problem is that we've gotten to a point that we're expecting "all-powerful" persons to solve problems in the first place. That's the sort of expectation that has its place under autocratic rule of priests and monarchs, not democratic rule of Law and Reason.

The article also states that the rise of the "Czar" is concomitant with the centralization of governmental power in the office of the presidency; a problem which Gene Healy wrote about at length in The Cult of the Presidency.

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