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.