FRED WOLFERMAN: More Czars Than Russia Ever Had
The czars were a long line of despotic tyrants who ruled Russia for centuries, until they were overthrown by the Communists in 1918.
Their name was derived from the Caesars, a long line of despotic tyrants who ruled ancient Rome until they were overthrown by barbarians in the fifth century.
Why is it, then, that the bastion of freedom, the hope of the world, the United States of America, now has more czars at one time than Russia did in its entire history, and is closing in on those Roman guys?
Our czars are not elected, they are not approved by the Senate or anybody else, and they have no constitutional basis whatsoever. How did all this get started?
We have Richard Nixon to thank for the first czar. He appointed John Love as energy czar in 1973. They kept on coming, with Ronald Reagan's drug czar, Bill Clinton's health-care czar, and a few others.
But none of that has matched the explosion of czars in the past five months. We now have czars for cars, infotech, TARP, stimulus accountability, nonproliferation and Guantanamo closure, among others. There is even a "faith-based czar," whatever that is. Isn't there something about the separation of church and state in the Constitution?
The latest addition is a pay czar, who will oversee the salaries of bankers who have taken two, but not one, handouts from the government.
These folks don't just sit around in small offices collecting six-figure salaries. No indeed. They have staffs. They write memos. I suppose they report directly to the president, since there is no other branch apparent on the federal flow charts. We now have our very own star chamber populated by czars.
What ever happened to the Cabinet? Shouldn't the secretary of the Treasury have something to say about TARP and stimulus accountability? (What is "stimulus accountability," anyway?) Aren't there secretaries of commerce, labor and transportation who might have some thoughts about the auto industry? How many turf wars do we need? Why are we piling on yet another layer of bureaucracy, unauthorized by any means I can think of, to further increase the cost and complexity of government?
The answer is really very simple, and it goes straight back to Mr. Nixon, who set this awful precedent. The czars are, at heart, nothing more than a sop to the public to create the illusion of targeted activity. Energy crisis? This guy will dig right in and solve it. Health-care issues? We'll get right on them. Your government cares.
Well, 36 years on, the energy crisis isn't exactly solved. Sixteen years on, health care is still in limbo. How long will the pay czar be messing with banks? What is the infotech czar going to do that Microsoft, Google and Apple haven't already thought of?
The czar craze has reached the point where any petty bureaucrat may be anointed czar by the media. Stories refer to a "timber czar" or a "regulatory czar," even a "homeless (meaning homelessness) czar," where no such titles have actually been bestowed. Yet.
The states have picked up on this concept. There are petty czars popping up all over the country as state governments try to appear to be on the cutting edge of populist problem-solving.
This is all a truly terrible idea. It is government at its unauthorized and unaccountable worst. Why do we bother with a Congress, however inept, a president and a judiciary? Does inserting another unelected layer between them and us accomplish anything worthwhile?
We ought to take a look back at George Washington, who was offered, and refused, the title of king. If our first president could turn that down, couldn't some modern patriot suck it up and refuse to be the infotech czar?
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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