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Byrd vs. the czars

Robert Byrd, the new Strom Thurmond (racist background, unspeakably ancient, and third(!) in line for the presidency) is taking President Obama to task for what he sees as an executive power grab -- namely the proliferation of "czars" to oversee White House policy.

I don't like czars much either, but the good thing about them is that they have very little actual power. Which is a good thing, since otherwise Byrd's accountability and checks and balances concerns would be valid. But then again, that doesn't make them very good "czars," does it? Czars, if I recall correctly, were autocratic tyrants, not toothless bureaucrats.

In this sense the new czars are preferable to the old, but who's bright idea was it to create a government position and call it a "czar" in the first place? In a better world, such a move would have been as unpopular as the creation of a "Health Care Despot," or a "Climate Change Inquisitor." Instead, it's become a trend. And why? Have any of them ever been successful at anything? Wasn't the first such position a "drug czar?" How well did that work out?

Obama's not the first president to appoint a "czar," but they do seem to be multiplying under this administration. Maybe I don't see the "czar" concept as quite the threat to democracy that Byrd does, but at the very least they are awfully silly, and I wish we could rethink the whole thing.


I have no idea who first started using the term "czar" but I first became aware of it with W. I don't get it. I suppose it's good short hand, but as you point out, not really since, well, they're not czars.

Turns out they go back further than I thought. According to Wikipedia, the term first came into popular coinage in 1982, although administrations dating back to Nixon had the rough equivalent of a "drug czar."

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