Now, people are talking about an “car czar” to restructure Detroit. This should not be confused with the “climate czar” that many have proposed, the “energy czar” that others have pressed on Obama (which itself should not be confused with the “energy czar” from the 1970’s), the “Iraq czar” that was briefly floated in 2007 by the Bush Administration, Tom Ridge’s brief tenure as “homeland security czar” before DHS’ creation, or, of course, the “drug czar” who still prowls the halls of the White House.
Could someone please explain to me:
1) How we can call someone a “czar” if they do not wield absolute power? and
2) Why it is that when someone decides to restructure the government, we recall a failed, deceased, corrupt, incompetent, unaccountable, and autocratic European monarchy?
Update: Lots of e-mails on this one. No one said so explicitly, but I’m coming around to the notion that a “____ czar” is apropos because these sorts of positions are virtually always ineffective. I’ll leave it to Mark to comment on the record of the drug czar, but the 70’s energy czar got nothing done and was unable to reorganize the government, and Ridge was ineffective in the White House (although his ideas were good, and he understood the issues better than most). It’s hard to move the federal government when you don’t have statutory authority and bureaucratic ballast. Czar creation, then, serves as a way of seeming to act without really knowing what to do. In that case, though, (as reader James Wimberley points out), it would be better to call the position a “Potemkin.”