In today’s Washington Post, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) rips President Obama for “appointing a virtual army of ‘czars’ — each wholly unaccountable to Congress yet tasked with spearheading major policy efforts for the White House.” His evidence:
At last count, there were at least 32 active czars that we knew of, meaning the current administration has more czars than Imperial Russia.
The administration has a Mideast peace czar (not to be confused with the Mideast policy czar), a Sudan czar and a Guantanamo closure czar. Then there’s the green jobs czar, sometimes in conflict with the energy czar, who talks to the technology czar, who sometimes crosses paths with the urban affairs czar. We mustn’t forget the Great Lakes czar or the WMD czar, who no doubt works hand in hand with the terrorism czar. The stimulus accountability czar is going through a rough time right now, as is the TARP czar — but thankfully they have to answer to the government performance czar. And seemingly everyone falls under the auspices of the information czar. In a government full of duplicative bureaucracies, adding more layers with overlapping responsibilities hardly seems the way to go.
Cantor admits that appointing these “czars” was not illegal, nor are they “bad people.” The problem is that they were “not subjected to Senate confirmation and congressional oversight.” Ironically, Cantor’s link to the outrageous “TARP czar” goes to the bio of Herbert Allison — who was confirmed by the Senate:
There’s also Cantor’s “technology czar” Aneesh Chopra and the “government performance czar” Jeff Zients. Both men have already been confirmed by the Senate; Chopra is the Associate Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and Zients is OMB’s Deputy Director for Management. Zients is serving in two roles — in both the OMB and as Chief Performance Officer — but he was fully vetted by the Senate.
Obama did appoint Cantor’s other “czars.” But as even Fox News has admitted, the practice of presidents naming high-ranking advisers goes “back as far as FDR, and maybe further.” In fact, the debate over the role of unconfirmed Presidential advisers reaches back to 1832, with critics accusing President Andrew Jackson of running a “Kitchen Cabinet” in place of the official one.
President Bush was also a fan of czars, although Cantor wasn’t complaining about them at the time. In fact, the “Sudan czar” is actually the U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan, and during his tenure, Bush appointed several people to hold that position. Bush had so many czars that in 2007, satirist Andy Borowitz suggested the White House needed a “lying czar” to “oversee all distortions and misrepresentations.”
Matt Yglesias takes on Cantor’s complaint that “the current administration has more czars than Imperial Russia”:
The thing about Imperial Russia is that as a centralized autocracy it only had one czar. Having multiple people in positions of authority makes a political system less, rather than more, autocratic. Consider, “under Hitler, Germany had only one Fuhrer, but in the contemporary United States there are dozens of important political leaders.” Do you find that idea alarming? Are we worse than the Nazis? Of course not.