There's No Time for the Man Called Czar


The casting call for a Bush administration "war czar," incredibly, goes on. Over at the impenetrable American Prospect site Steve Benen points out that the Bushies seem to need a czar for everything. I'll save you the trip to the main article—which involves scaling a 33-foot electrified fence and answering the riddle of the Sphinx—and steal his nut graf.

  • In 2001, with escalating concerns about possible attacks on our information technology infrastructure, Bush named a "cybersecurity czar."
  • In 2003, the president's desire to help his corporate benefactors led to the creation of a "regulatory czar" at the Office of Management and Budget. Around the same time, Bush named his first "AIDS Czar." (He didn't choose wisely—Bush tapped Randall Tobias, the administration's former top advocate of global abstinence-only policies, who was recently forced to resign after procuring "massages" from a controversial Washington escort service.)
  • In 2004, faced with growing discontent over the nation's struggling manufacturing industries, Bush appointed a "manufacturing czar." (He chose the chief executive of a Nebraska company that had laid off manufacturing employees and built factories in China.)
  • 2005 was a banner year for czars. In February, Bush responded to revelations about failed national security intelligence by creating an "intelligence czar." Shortly thereafter, we had a "bird-flu czar." A few months after that, following the tragically botched handling of the response to Hurricane Katrina, there was a "Katrina czar."

And it all started with Jerome Jaffe, the methadone-loving nogoodnik.

NEXT: The Drink Formerly Known As Cocaine

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  1. This should be incredibly disturbing; In essence these czar’s represent the idea that things would work if we put a stong enough leader in charge. It’s straight out of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom.

    The fuhrerprincip, the idea that it is best to place matters in the hands of a strong leader who gets things done, and who is limited only by his imagination and energy, is sort of the ethelyne glycol of politics. Sweet and satisfying in the short term and deadly in the long term.

  2. I once caught myself using the word ‘czar’ to mean “official who can cut through bureaucracy to get things done” rather than “autocratic purveyor of serfdom.”

    I haven’t made that mistake again.

  3. Not to worry, a czar isn’t what it use to be.
    Old definition:
    A person exercising great authority or power in a particular field

    New definition:
    A bureaucrat holding a primarily symbolic position, charged with achieving a herculean task with little authority. Eventually to be used as a scapegoat.

  4. I didn’t realize how many czars there were. I bet it would really streamline things if we had a czar for all those czars.

  5. “Ombudsman” is a little closer to what they are meaning, right?

  6. Psst, highnumber.

    A certain blog should report that a certain God of Trolls was named as the Bush administration’s Trolling Czar. Zeus knows that they could use one.

  7. Clearly, Weigal is in the pocket of Big Czar.

  8. Have we had any czarinas yet, or need only men apply for czardom?

  9. This goes quite well with some of the other czars in the White House…

    The Truth Czar: Snow

    The Political Czar: Rove

    The Justice Czar: Gonzo

    The Foreign Policy Czar: Rice

    The Security Czar: Grand Moff Tarkin (Chertoff)

    And although not in the White House anymore, we can’t forget the Banking Czar: Wolfowitz

    Nor the News Czar: Fox (and their deputy czars O’Reilly, Hannity, etc.)

  10. I was briefly the Legal Fellow Czar, ruling all things legal fellowshipish in America. Strangely, my appointment got virtually no press.

  11. Why do we need a War Czar? I thought that was the role of the Commander in Chief?

    Alternatively, could we just end one of the wars and then they (it) might be more manageable?

  12. Over at the impenetrable American Prospect site Steve Clemons points out that the Bushies seem to need a czar for everything. I’ll save you the trip to the main article – which involves scaling a 33-foot electrified fence and answering the riddle of the Sphinx – and steal his nut graf.

    I remember that “Weigal” took a lot of knocks when he first got here, so it’s probably worth mentioning that I’ve really enjoyed many of his recent posts. And the once-rampant typos are now almost non-existent.

    This was especially noticeable when he live-blogged the Repub debate, and he popped out one-liners rapid-fire like some kind of Pez dispenser of zing.

  13. Weigel for Zing Czar.

  14. Love the title Weigel. I thought I was the only Frank Black fan around these parts.

  15. The bush administration is attempting to be Machiavellian with all the czars, the problem is that no one is falling for it anymore.

    The goal of a scapegoat is to draw fire away from a leader’s ineffective/unpopular decisions without the public knowing what is happening. Once one of your scapegoats has been found out all of your remaining staff comes under suspicion and it becomes harder to try the same thing again.

    The problem with Bush is that he is so obvious when looking for a scapegoat that the plan has no chance to work from the outset.

  16. TSoG. Thanks Bob.

  17. Darn it, I wanted to be the first to namecheck Frank Black.

    Did you know that song is about John Denver?

  18. “May God bless and keep the czars . . . far away from us!”

    Also – I had no idea these czars even existed. How can the Katrina czar be a scapegoat if no-one knows his name, or even that there is one?

  19. Oh, that war.

    From the head I thought he was looking for someone to coordinate the War on Terror, War on Drugs, War on Transfats, War on Poverty, War on Global Warming, War on Gay Marriage,

    Wouldn’t it be nice, every now and then, to declare peace on something?

  20. I will be frightened when they start appointing Rasputins.

  21. Every man a czar!

  22. In Soviet White House, Czar appoints YOU to be scapegoat for failed policy!

  23. Gaijin has it. There are some things that ought to be delegated, but fighting wars, especially wars whose popularity the president has personally carried water for for 5 years, is not one of them.

    And how do we know the War Czar will be any more clued-in and competent than AG AG (AG AG makes me G AG)

  24. Interesting link by the way…General Batiste commenting on the Iraq War

  25. At least they filled the position of blame czar

  26. I used to joke with my general counsel that I wanted the job of Chief Scapegoat at our company. Good job security, I figured, because our executives always needed someone to blame 🙂

  27. Alas, PL, Chief Scapegoat will be my official title tomorrow. I have to drop off building plans for a set of schools that I have mostly not been involved with. However, I know that I will be chewed out due to the lack of coordination that’s been prevalent prior to my taking over (this last Friday).

    Any suggestions? Should I arrive drunk? Or is it better to save that for after the meeting?

  28. jimmydageek — If you are a new face to the people you will be meeting when you drop off the plans, I suggest that you speak in broken, halting English, and accept any complaints by repeatedly nodding your head and saying, “Yes, yes, I thank you, I will confey your concerns to my zuperiors.”

  29. And say your name is is Tibor. Refer to yourself in the third person, too.

  30. The better transliteration of the Russian term is “tsar”, not “czar” (which I’m guessing is how the Poles spell it).

    That bit of nitpickery out of the way, I wonder if the lucky war tsar gets a nice little case of hemophilia?

  31. jimmydageek,

    Constantly refer to your personal friend, Dick Greco, and strongly imply that he’s a “friend of the friends”.

  32. Robert Anton Wilson holds (held?) forth on “Mystic Tsarism” and the “Tsarist Occupation Government” (T.S.O.G.):

    The Creature That Ate the Constitution

  33. An czar is like a God; if there’s two of them, there can’t be any.

    Why do we need a War Czar? I thought that was the role of the Commander in Chief?

    Heh, good point. Especially since the White House is constantly harping about having “535 commanders-in-chief”.

  34. I prefer “tsar”, myself, but the administration versions always get spelt that other way.

    And yes, I prefer “spelled”, too, but the administration also likes spelting.

  35. According to Maybury, czar is Russian for caesar.

  36. Damned right it is. The Grand Duke of Muscovy was the heir to the Roman Empire. Or so the tsars liked to say, anyway.

  37. ChrisO,
    To get even more nitpicky, the origin of the word is Hebrew: Sin Resh. The meaning is prince or ruler. It would best be transliterated as Sar.

    How about Tay-Sachs disease?

  38. Thus far, apparently, every general, past or present, approached to take the War Tsar job has responded with something which sounds a lot like, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

  39. Timothy, Cheney’s name was legally, but secretly, changed to Rasputin in a classified clause of the PATRIOT Act.

    Be afraid, be very afraid.

  40. Haven’t done any research on it but hasn’t there been an obsession with Czar for while Drug Czar, etc…I think it goes more back to Clinton or Bush 1.

  41. I prefer “tsar”, myself, but the administration versions always get spelt that other way.

    Same here. Czar always reminds me of Zsa Zsa, which I guess is appropriate for this administration.

  42. If only there were some document which assigned one individual to be the nation’s war czar, or “commander in chief,” if you will. Oh, wait, that isn’t working.

  43. Haven’t done any research on it but hasn’t there been an obsession with Czar for while Drug Czar, etc…I think it goes more back to Clinton or Bush 1.

    The first time I saw it used was when Nixon appointed an “Energy Czar”.

    I’ve forgotten who it was and am not interested enugh to google.

  44. I’ve forgotten who it was and am not interested enugh to google.

    John Love, 1973, followed in short order by a name more recognizable, William E. Simon.

    I had to write a newsletter article about it.

  45. Thanks, Larry.

    Can anyone come up with an earlier instance of the use of the word, I wonder?

  46. According to Maybury, czar is Russian for caesar.

    I though Andy Griffith was the czar of Maybury.

  47. If all these czars are under Bush, does that make him czar of czars?

    If we invade Iran, will the war commander be the Czar of Iran?

    Will the person in charge of relations with the former Soviet Union be the Czar of All the Russias?

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