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June 15th, 2009
06:33 AM ET

Why all the Obama 'czars'?

From CNN's Carol Costello and Bob Ruff

The word "czar" conjures up the image of one of those all-powerful rulers of Russia many centuries ago.

Think Ivan the Terrible. That's the 16th Century Prince of Moscow who turned Russia into a true nation-state. And as the "Terrible" suggests, this was not exactly one of your touchy-feely, sensitive tsars ("tsar" is the Russian spelling for czar).

So, what do we make of Barack Obama's "czars"?

First off all, there are 21 of them – and counting. No previous president comes close to matching that number.

There's a "czar" for Drugs, Energy, Auto Recovery, the Great Lakes, Borders, Information, Stimulus Accountability, Urban Affairs...

You get the picture.

Some people don't like it. They think the president is circumventing the Congress by naming special assistants who don't need Senate approval because they work directly for him.

Rush Limbaugh has weighed in: "He's (Obama) a statist. He's an authoritarian. He wants to rule; he doesn't want to govern."

Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) complained about Environment "Czar" Carol Browner: "She has not been confirmed by Congress, and there is no way for Congress to hold her accountable for her actions."

Even a member of the president's own party, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) has criticized the White House. The Senator wrote a letter to the President in February: "(the czars) can threaten the Constitutional system of checks and balances. At the worst, White House staff have taken direction and control of programmatic areas that are the statutory responsibility of Senate-confirmed officials."

The White House hasn't had much to say about all of this. Although Rahm Emanuel, the president's chief of staff, told a Chicago Tribune interviewer in late April, "... as I joke in the White House, nobody's a czar. The reason is czars weren't good to my people, so I really don't like the title anyway."

So, why is the president naming so many "czars"?

The University of Virginia's Larry Sabato, author of "The Year of Obama", suggests that "the likelihood is that Obama simply likes the idea as a matter of presidential style to have a coordinator who is, at least in the public image, given a great deal of power and authority – someone who can command the media spotlight on a particular subject."

But why refer to them as "czars"? That's what White House press secretary Robert Gibbs did last March when he said to reporters, "Let me address the czar question for a minute." After all, the word "czar" isn't in any of the titles of these presidential assistants. Why did Gibbs go on to say it? Isn't that relevant?

Sabato says, maybe at least partly tongue-in-cheek "Part of it is to recruit them to office. So many well-entrenched, well-off people don't really want to serve anymore and they do have to make many sacrifices, including tremendous cuts in salary. So if you're recruiting somebody from the private sector, and you're asking them to do without several million dollars in compensation, I suppose it's a nice balance to be able to say, 'but you'll be a czar.'"

Somewhere, Ivan the Terrible must be smiling.

Filed under: Politics
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Michael Regan

    I don't believe the president is Insane,but I do believe he is a socialist..You need to check out the background of those so called CZARS.You well find socialist with one CZAR who wrote a book on the value of life that starts not at birth,but at 18 months to 2 years of age.Before that it is nothing.OBAMA cares not for aged for they do not fit in his picture of his working class.Sounds like something out of Russia.OBAMA is a puppet being used to make a ONE WORLD GOVERNMENT by these extremely rich evil men and women who have been working for years to make this one world nightmare a reality.They back STALIN and HITLER.They backed President Kennedy,but he would not be their puppet and he was killed.This was a lesson to any other's who did not play the puppet role they would die..Jimmy Cater was there best puppet with all the right help they put around him.Then there was Bush. He took this country into the hands of the ONE WORLD evil doer's by steam engine.Obama is taking this country in by jet plane.GOD help us for it is his help we need.We need to speak out against this puppet and his puppeteers. God Bless America.

    August 15, 2009 at 12:16 am |
  2. Jennie Maroney

    Why does Obama have so many czars? The answer is obvious to anyone who's been paying attention.

    The man is hopelessly insane. Brilliant. But insane.

    July 15, 2009 at 10:36 pm |

    MORE OF THE OBAMA TREND. Waste more money why dont yah? we need to stop and protest these actions America.

    June 16, 2009 at 11:28 am |
  4. Bernice

    Tim, this is really not to the blame of CNN. Our very own president hired the CZARS and called them CZARS! They (CNN) are just reporting what our president has informed them of! On the other hand, it should concern all of you that our president has hired people in which he calls CZARS to high positions in his office. They are to answer to noone but him! He shares nothing with the American people, and these CZARS have absolutely NOONE looking out after them! He should have to answer to the American Peeople! This should NOT be an option! He was elected by the people! Maybe it should be about time that he answered to them for the things that he does! One more thing here... a CRAR originally came from Russia, the communist country, didn't it?? Makes me wonder what his actual intentions really are! Why do we even need a president? We have all of these CRARS to take care of most of our countrys issues, don't we? We are just ONCE AGAIN seriously overpaying for the presidents office seat! Unlike other presidents in the past, he can not seem to find the ability take good care of this country and its people! He needs czars! The whole expense and issue for the American people really does concern me! It should all of you! Start looking past the sweet talk! No sence in blaming CNN either. This one is ONCE AGAIN not thier responsibility!

    June 16, 2009 at 7:54 am |
  5. Tim

    I do think reports/ journalists are being "over the top" and sensationalist in using the term "czar" to decribe these appointments and jobs.

    Face the truth. The term czar is politically and emotionally charged.

    Why else would any one use the term instead of the property titles these people have?

    CNN.....Stop bending as low as some of your competing networks.
    Be a bit more responsible in your reporting and stop using the term "czar" when speaking of these appointees.

    June 15, 2009 at 8:03 am |
  6. crobj

    Maybe if we came up with a new 'title' for these people would that make you and the others that try to micromanage this president feel better? Maybe if we if would have had some 'czarist' thinking during the 'Katrina' debacle maybe the outcomes wouldn't have been so bad for the people there. Get off Obama's back. The media has this 'new' 24/7 news cycle and any little thing is grist for the mill. To bad you people didn't try to work to reveal the lies the last administration told that led us to war.

    June 15, 2009 at 7:11 am |
  7. Joseph Danile Brian Lawlor

    The answer and reason for the Czars is self evident is it not. President Obama is not expected to understand the fullness of Government, Industry, Finance, Academic, Military, Media and Religion but he is expected to have those around him that do know and understand each of their perspective parts. When dealing with Industry or Finance for example it would be wise to have those on his team assisting him in dealing properly with Industry and Finance.

    As we have seen Industry and Finance cannot administer to the Peoples properly so it is time to have these Czars put in place to understand and correct that which was administered to improperly.

    June 15, 2009 at 6:49 am |