After only three months in office, David J. Rothkopf declares Obama all-time champion of Czar creation.
With yesterday’s naming of Border Czar Alan Bersin, the Obama administration has by any reasonable reckoning passed the Romanov Dynasty in the production of czars. The Romanovs ruled Russia from 1613 with the ascension of Michael I through the abdication of Czar Nicholas II in 1917. During that time, they produced 18 czars. While it is harder to exactly count the number of Obama administration czars, with yesterday’s appointment it seems fair to say it is now certainly in excess of 18.
In addition to Bersin, we have energy czar Carol Browner, urban czar Adolfo Carrion, Jr., infotech czar Vivek Kundra, faith-based czar Joshua DuBois, health reform czar Nancy-Ann DeParle, new TARP czar Herb Allison, stimulus accountability czar Earl Devaney, non-proliferation czar Gary Samore, terrorism czar John Brennan, regulatory czar Cass Sunstein, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, and Guantanamo closure czar Daniel Fried. We also have a host of special envoys that fall into the czar category including AfPak special envoy Richard Holbrooke, Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell, special advisor for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia Dennis Ross, Sudan special envoy J. Scott Gration and climate special envoy Todd Stern. That’s 18.
This is a very conservative estimate, however. I will allow you to pick whom you would like out of the remaining candidates. For example you could count de facto car czar Steve Rattner even though the administration went out of its way to say they weren’t going to have a car czar… before he ultimately emerged as the car czar. You could count National Director of Intelligence Dennis Blair, often referred to as the intelligence czar, although you might not want to because his job has a different kind of status on the org chart. I’m not going to count Paul Volcker who was referred to as Obama’s economic czar because Obama is not making much use of Volcker (at least according to reports).
But you certainly might want to count people deemed by the media to be the “cyber security czar” or the “AIDs czar” or the “green jobs czar” even if there are reasons to quibble about the designation of one or two of them.
Why do all these imperial appointments matter?
They matter procedurally because “Czar” appointments do not require Senatorial confirmation and represent an end-run around the Constitutional “Advise and Consent” prerogative of the US Senate. Obama can make any number of rancid radicals into “czars” of this, that, or the other thing, delegating to them large executive branch powers and responsibilities, even in cases of individuals who would not be confirmable by a vote in the Senate.
Czardom does not sit well with Sen. Robert Byrd. Though slowed by age, the West Virginia Democrat remains vigorous in his defense of the powers ceded to the Congress by the Constitution. He said he believes czars are a slick way of governing without having to answer to Congress.
There is no constitutional requirement that czars undergo those pesky Senate confirmation hearings.
Former Rep. Ernest Istook said he doesn’t like the term czar either because it’s too Russian.
“We could just call somebody the big boss, el jefe, head honcho, the big cheese,” he said. “My father used to refer to people as the chief cook and bottle washer.”
Istook said he believes the Obama team is using the appointment of czars to reinvent how the executive branch operates.