“Czar” as a pejorative term in American Politics
All presidents must choose a slate of Cabinet Secretaries and dozens of other administrators. The press and pundits, on both sides of the aisles, have long referred to these officials as “czars”, but presidents, at least since Nixon, rarely use the term themselves.
I cannot find is a single example of Obama actually using the term “czar”. I can find dozens of Republicans and pundits denigrating Obama because of his czars. I can find dozens of commentators complaining that Obama czars are proof he has a hidden agenda to turn America into a socialist nation, that his czars prove he is an arrogant despot, and that this is unprecedented in US history. I can find lots of proof that most Republicans are either deeply ignorant of American history and culture or are hypocrites playing on their constituents’ emotions.
The word czar comes from the title “Tsar” once used by certain Eastern European monarchs. In America it has been used metaphorically by the media to describe appointed positions with broad powers over an organization. It is not an official government title.
The term “czar” was used as early as the 1800s to criticize political opponents. In the 1830′s, Andrew Jackson sought to eliminate the Second United States National Bank and its president Nicholas Biddle. In supporting Jackson, the Washington Globe labeled Biddle “Czar Nicholas”, comparing Biddle’s control of the currency to the iron fisted rule of Russia’s Nicholas I. Andrew Johnson was ridiculed with the title of “Czar of the Amerikas” for perceived mishandling of reconstruction. In 1890 the Republican Speaker of the House earned the nickname “Czar” for strong arming through rules changes.
After the Russian Revolution deposed the czars, the term lost its connection to harsh despots and took on a gentler tone. When Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was appointed commissioner by the baseball owners in 1919 to clean up the sport following the Black Sox Scandal, headlines proclaimed him the new Baseball Czar. Soon other sporting authorities were also called czars as were many other organizations administrators.
In the 1930s and 1940s it was used less congenially to describe the multitude of positions Franklin D. Roosevelt created by executive order to manage the wartime economy. In 1944 the Republicans requested the creation of a “food czar” to control wartime pricing and distribution. By the end of the war the term was also being used to describe some Cabinet appointees after their powers were expanded by Congress. However, the term became less popular after the war ended.
The term became popular again in the 1970’s with the creation of the Energy Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency during Nixon’s presidency. Nixon said the heads of these agencies would have “absolute authority” in their respective areas and compared them to dictators. Thus they became popularly known as the “energy czar” and the “drug czar” in the press. Since then the term has been widely used by the press and by pundits to describe government and non-government appointees: terrorism czar, cyber-security czar, oversight czar, intelligence czar, and war czar are just a few of the terms used in the press to describe people in both Republican and Democratic administrations.
By 2003 the Office of National Drug Control Policy began using the term “drug czar” in official press releases. Democrat Henry A. Waxman, and others, suggested that this was an unconstitutional granting of a title of nobility. An investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated that “"the law does not bestow that title on the ONDCP Director.” The GAO concluded that “ONDCP's use of the term "Drug Czar" to describe the Director of ONDCP does not constitute unlawful self-aggrandizement".
The word “czar” has long been used by American political commentators to describe appointed officials whose broad powers bear a superficial resemblance to 19th century Russian autocrats. Although its usage has crept into the language of both Democrat and Republican officials, its use is metaphoric, and it is not intended as a title of nobility.
Republicans have tried every way possible to belittle and marginalize Obama and his presidency. Their willingness to manipulate people’s emotions by pretending that Obama is the first president to have a stable of “czars” advising him is just one more example of the cynicism of the Right and their overwhelming need to attack Obama at every turn. The web sites that demonize Obama for appointing advisors are full of people who have no knowledge of American political history before Reagan. And they know very little of history since then.
As we know, the authoritarian conservative personality is psychologically incapable of understanding how reprehensible their behavior is. They have no hesitation over viciously attacking Obama. They aren’t the least bit embarrassed about publicly displaying their depth of their ignorance. And they have no ability to acknowledge any fact that contradicts their agenda to destroy an American president.