DANCING WITH THE CZARS - not STARS!

September 25, 2009

First, let me start with a definition of a czar: Occasionally spelled Csar or Tzar, it is a Slavic term derived from the Bulgarian word meaning "Emperor."  It is actually the way the Bulgarians of the middle ages spelt Caesar.  It that medieval sense it is one who claims the rank of supreme ruler, with the blessing of the ruling ecclesiastical authority (i.e. the church). 

The White House czars are presidential assistants charged with responsibility for given policy areas. As such, they are among the president's closest advisers. In many respects, they are equivalent to the personal staff of a member of Congress. To subject the qualifications of such assistants to congressional scrutiny - the regular confirmation process - would trench upon the president's inherent right, as the head of an independent and equal branch of the federal government, to seek advice and counsel where he sees fit.

To President Obama, a czar is one who is given oversight over a particular area the White House deems is worthy of such attention and is given a staff and the authority to carry out the job duties assigned by the President without the consent or approval of the legislative branch of the government.  Many of the current czars have staffs larger than most of the regular advisors within the West Wing of the White House.  Their budgets are huge and their responsibilities are multi-faceted.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, has argued that the Obama administration's "czars" are effectively in those positions unconstitutionally because their hiring creates "precisely the kind of ambiguity the Framers sought to prevent." Far from undermining the separation of powers, however, the president's right to organize his White House policymaking apparatus is protected by that very constitutional principle.

As Hutchison points out, the result of a president seeking counsel where he likes may well be embarrassment - as was the case with "green jobs czar" Van Jones, who recently resigned over revelations of his ties to radical groups and his apparent endorsement of Sept. 11 conspiracy theories. Barack Obama has taken the political hit - and he is not the first president to pay that price. In 2006, Claude Allen, a domestic policy adviser to President George W. Bush, resigned after being accused of shoplifting.

This raises a second point in the Obama administration's favor: Some of the positions many are now criticizing have existed for years. As The Washington Post has reported: "By one count, Bush had 36 czar positions filled by 46 people during his eight years as president." Historically, presidents have turned to special advisers.

However much the czars may drive the policymaking process at the White House, they cannot - despite their grandiose (and frankly ridiculous) appellation - determine what that policy will be. The Constitution's "appointments clause" requires that very senior federal officials be appointed with the Senate's consent, though lesser appointments can be made by the president, agency heads or the courts, as Congress provides. Well-established Supreme Court precedent holds that an "officer" subject to these requirements is one who exercises "significant authority pursuant to the laws of the United States."

This is the critical difference between the White House czars and federal officials who must be confirmed by the Senate. In the absence of legislation (such as that creating the Office of Drug Control Policy, whose director is the "drug czar"), the only power exercised by White House czars comes from their proximity to the president and the access this provides. Yes, as many will note, that truly is power. But it is not significant authority under U.S. law - which only the Constitution or Congress can confer.

Now for the historical fact.  From Franklin D. Roosevelt through George W. Bush, the total combined number of czars appointed (that's from 1933 until 2009) is 32!  Mr. Obama has equaled that number all by himself and in less than eight months in office.  Already, he has far exceeded the previous powers enjoyed by every President - including Franklin Roosevelt, who, I am certain, if he were alive today would wonder how Obama did it.  Roosevelt never amassed as much power and probably never dreamed any president could do it.

If there is doubt about the centrality of advisers to the president's execution of his office, recall the 2005 demands by Democrats that former White House counsel Harriet Miers and Bush adviser Karl Rove testify before Congress about the dismissal of several U.S. attorneys. This effort had very little to do with Miers and Rove and even less to do with a handful of unhappy Republican political appointees. The target was always President Bush and his policies. Republicans who are concerned about Obama's czars should not fall into the same bad habits now that a Democrat is president.

Hutchison's frustration at being unable to tell whether the czars are imposing the administration's agenda on agency officials who have been confirmed by the Senate is misplaced. Legally, they can do no such thing. The Constitution vests all executive power in the president, creating a unitary executive, and it is his authority to execute the laws that federal officials exercise, subject to his direction.

Wow! You say?  Well, that is your tax dollars at work, placing czars in positions in which they are willing to regulate your money, your job, your places of influence and your very life.  They are advising the President in the best ways to undermine the Constitution, the Congress and the very people who put him in office.  They have their empires in which they move and work and over which they regulate, but the ultimate sphere of their influence is the United States!!


For those of you wanting to know just who these Czars are, let me introduce you to them:

  1. Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) czar, Richard Holbrooke
  2. AIDS czar, Jeffrey Crowley
  3. Auto recovery czar, Ed Montgomery
  4. Behavioral science czar, position not yet filled
  5. Bailout czar, Herbert Allison Jr., [replaced Bush bailout czar Neel Kashkari, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Stability confirmed by Senate]
  6. Border czar, Alan Bersin
  7. Car czar, Ron Bloom [Counselor to the Secretary of the Treasury , under Senate oversight]
  8. Climate change czar, Todd Stern
  9. Copyright czar, not appointed yet
  10. Counterterrorism czar, John Brennan
  11. Cybersecurity czar, position became vacant on August 21st upon the departure of Melissa Hathaway]
  12. Disinformation czar, Linda Douglass [This is a new media buzz since our earlier list, a response by pundits to the White House request for informantsl]
  13. Domestic violence czar, Lynn Rosenthal
  14. Drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske
  15. Economic czar, Larry Summers
  16. Economic czar number two, Paul Volcker
  17. Education czar, Arne Duncan
  18. Energy czar, Carol Browner
  19. Food czar, Michael Taylor [a former Monsanto executive, or, the fox in charge of the henhouse]
  20. Government performance czar, Jeffrey Zients
  21. Great Lakes czar, Cameron Davis
  22. Green jobs czar, Van Jones [who has a communist background] - just stepped down due to "pressure from those bigots on the right"
  23. Guantanamo closure czar, Daniel Fried
  24. Health czar, Nancy-Ann DeParle
  25. Infotech czar, Vivek Kundra [Shoplifted four shirts, worth $33.50 each, from J.C. Penney in 1996 (source). His last day in DC government was March 4 but on March 12 the FBI raided his office and arrested two staffers.]
  26. Intelligence czar, Dennis Blair [Director of National Intelligence, a Senate confirmed position. He is a retired United States Navy four-star admiral]
  27. Latin-American czar, Arturo Valenzuela (nominee) [although this post is referred to as a czar, he is nominated to be Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and so is subject to Senate confirmation. Voting on his confirmation was delayed to clarify his position on Honduras. Watch WaPo's Head Count to track status of confirmation.]
  28. Mideast peace czar, George Mitchell
  29. Mideast policy czar, Dennis Ross
  30. Pay czar, Kenneth Feinberg
  31. Regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein
  32. Religion czar, aka God czar Joshua DuBois
  33. Safe schools czar, Kevin Jennings [appointed to be Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, a newly created post (that does not require Senate confirmation); openly gay founder of an organization dedicated to promoting pro-homosexual clubs and curricula in public schools]
  34. Science czar, John Holdren
  35. Stimulus oversight czar, Earl Devaney
  36. Sudan czar, J. Scott Gration
  37. TARP czar, Elizabeth Warren [chair of the [Congressional Oversight Panel for the Trouble Assets Relief Program; note that Herb Allison is frequently called the TARP czar]
  38. Technology czar, Aneesh Chopra
  39. Trade czar, Ron Kirk
  40. Urban affairs czar, Adolfo Carrion
  41. War czar, Douglas Lute [retained from Bush administration, married to Jane Holl Lute, currently a Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security]
  42. Water czar, David J. Hayes [a Deputy Interior Secretary and therefore subject to Senate oversight]
  43. Weapons czar, Ashton Carter [actually Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics and so subject to Senate confirmation]
  44. Weapons of mass destruction czar, Gary Samore

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.