Saturday, September 5, 2009

The American Czar

Why do US presidents try to be Russian monarchs? Every president since George H. Bush has appointed “czars” to overcome bureaucratic delays and streamline their agenda. The term started when the first President Bush appointed Bill Bennett as the first “drug czar”. The term czar originally meant a supreme monarch who had the approval of another monarch or church leader such as the Pope. In keeping with this sense of divine supremacy, Bennett quickly coined the term “war on drugs” to show the US meant business regarding the illegal use and sale of drugs. The war on drugs introduced mandatory sentencing guidelines for drug crimes that in turn flooded our prisons beyond their capacity. Conversely, drugs use remained constant (switching between drugs of choice causes fluctuations statistics) and illegal drugs continue to be smuggled into this country. The power of the “czar” in the United States then becomes questionable. Why continue having these special advisors that can’t implement their bosses political agenda?

President Obama has a record number of “czars” in his administration. In addition to the ubiquitous “drug czar”, he has 31 czars. The following is a list from;

1) Afghanistan Czar: Richard Holbrooke
2) AIDS Czar: Jeffrey Crowley
3) Auto recovery Czar: Ed Montgomery
4) Border Czar: Alan Bersin
5) California Water Czar: David J. Hayes
6) Car Czar: Ron Bloom
7) Central Region Czar: Dennis Ross
8) Domestic Violence Czar: Lynn Rosenthal
9) Drug Czar: Gil Kerlikowske
10) Economic Czar: Paul Volcker
11) Energy and Environment Czar: Carol Browner
12) Faith-Based Czar: Joshua DuBois
13) Great Lakes Czar: Cameron Davis
14) Green Jobs Czar: Van Jones
15) Guantanamo Closure Czar: Daniel Fried
16) Health Czar: Nancy-Ann DeParle
17) Information Czar: Vivek Kundra
18) International Climate Czar: Todd Stern
19) Intelligence Czar: Dennis Blair
20) Mideast Peace Czar: George Mitchell
21) Pay Czar: Kenneth Feinberg
22) Regulatory Czar: Cass Sunstein
23) Science Czar: John Holdren
24) Stimulus Accountability Czar: Earl Devaney
25) Sudan Czar: J. Scott Gration
26) TARP Czar: Herb Allison
27) Terrorism Czar: John Brennan
28) Technology Czar: Aneesh Chopra
29) Urban Affairs Czar: Adolfo Carrion Jr.
30) Weapons Czar: Ashton Carter
31) WMD Policy Czar: Gary Samore

The White House calls these “czars” special advisors to the President. The need for czars seems rather unnecessary as President name their appointees as Secretaries for the various federal agencies. In addition, the President has his Chief of Staff , National Security Advisor, National Security Council and various other executive staffers to help him formulate policy. The other problem is unlike their namesake; the American czars have no real power. They can conduct meetings, symposiums and press conferences but in the end are unable to change the very bureaucracies they are trying to circumvent.

The czars are also over-politicized; the Green Jobs czar Van Jones is getting bogged down by his past more so than by any policies regarding his current position. His comments about white kids and Columbine has polarized the Internet. I’ve listened to his comments and he does make some intriguing observations (why are majority of school shootings conducted primarily by whites?). However, he at the same time skips over the predominance of violent crimes committed by blacks (especially black on black crime). Depending on which side of his argument you find yourself, you either dismiss him for his omission or your praise him for his acumen.

Intellectual discourse is dead and only partisan rhetoric shouted at decibels approaching a jet fighter launching off an aircraft carrier can be heard. Perhaps in the middle of all of this noise, Presidents will learn to be less reliant on czars…and I may win the lottery.

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