If you follow politics at all, you know there are dozens of people in the Obama administration known as "czars" -- drug czar, AIDS czar, auto czar, TV game show czar, etc. But you may not know that "czar" or "czarina" is not their official title. Nor is Barack Obama the first president to have these so-called czars under his executive oversight.
Let's take a look at the history of "czars" in America and try to make sense of them.
The term itself is actually media-driven, not government-driven. The positions, which are really advisers to the president, often have very official, very cumbersome titles. But as Factcheck.org points out:
What makes for a better headline – "weapons czar" or "undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics"?
Of course, Czar Mania isn't all the media's fault. Sometimes an administration will conveniently use the term "czar" to refer to the position. Just as it makes for a better headline, it also makes the job sound more meaningful and easier for the public to understand.
Then there is the perception that Obama created a whole slew of government czars. He certainly does have a lot of them. A new table on Opposing Views indicates Obama has 32 czars, and noted Obama critic Glenn Beck has criticized the president for having so many. Yet President George W. Bush had 47 czars.
Interestingly, czars got their start under President Franklin Roosevelt. FDR had 12 of them -- most of whom dealt with the Great Depression and World War II. Just like men wearing top hats, they quickly fell out of favor as subsequent presidents had just a handful each. JFK actually had zero, while Ronald Reagan appointed only one during his two terms, until Bush came up with his record-breaking 47.
So why do we need so many? The main criticism of czars can best be summed up Vision America's Rick Scarborough, also an expert here on Opposing Views:
"(Obama's) czars are unelected and unaccountable. They have too much money and power, and are remaking America in ways none of us could have imagined.”
Is that accurate? Well, it is true that the president appoints czars, and sometimes they do not have to go through the confirmation process, but according to FactCheck, of Obama's czars:
-- Nine were confirmed by the Senate.
-- Eight more were not appointed by the president – for instance, the special advisor to the EPA overseeing its Great Lakes restoration plan ("Great Lakes czar") is EPA-appointed.
-- Fifteen of the "czarships," including seven that are in neither of the above categories, were created by previous administrations.
-- In all, of the 32 positions, only eight are Obama-appointed, unconfirmed, brand new czars.
Czars are part of the executive branch, and critics are concerned about the increased executive power. The Rutherford Institute's John W. Whitehead, another Opposing Views expert, writes:
The problem with the use of policy czars... is that it allows the president to operate in secret, beyond the scrutiny of Congress. As a result, the reach and power of the Executive Branch has expanded well beyond constitutional limits.
In fact, these policy czars are just another attempt to sidestep our system of checks and balances, which is perhaps one of the most innovative ideas of the Framers: the power of each branch to check the others was intended to ensure freedom and prevent tyranny. Just as importantly, it prevents one branch of government from dominating the others. One of the chief concerns of the Framers when they created a constitutional system that included checks and balances and a separation of powers was to significantly limit the power of the President.
But former presidential candidate and billionaire Steve Forbes tells Fox News Obama's czars don't really have much power. "If you don't have bureaucracy behind you, if you don't have a massive budget behind you, you have a nice title, 'czar', but you're in effect a eunuch," he said.
Presidential scholar Kathryn Dunn Tenpas disagrees, saying "I think most of their power derives from their relationship with the president."
Henry Kissinger, for example, had such a strong relationship with President Nixon as national Security Adviser, he often bypassed the State and Defense Secretaries and went directly to Nixon with his opinions.
Kissinger is seen as the exception rather than the rule. But as the media continue to use the term "czar" like it is some kind of all-powerful, secret role in the administration, public perception may become that the West Wing is crawling with people who possess as much influence as a Kissinger.