The “Czar Czar”

US President Barack Obama is appointing another “Czar” to serve at his pleasure. This time it is a “Pay Czar,” who will oversee compensation matters relative to the many new government-controlled enterprises and bailed-out firms, which is fast becoming the real “growth industry” in America: i.e. corporatism, industrial policy or economic fascism. The recent count is apparently now up to 18 such non-cabinet posts. The executive practice of appointing aides with cabinet level authority has been utilized by the White House for some time and it fell to considerable criticism when George W. Bush was serving. Most of the justifiable concern and criticism was then, and is now, centered on the concentration of power in the Executive branch of government.

With respect to the Obama record-setting level of “Czar” appointments, the myopic supporters of the President will say—as a follow-up to the “mess” left by the previous administration—that Mr. Obama needs plenty of close advisors so that he can take his usual “bold and swift” actions to clean things up. And besides, with regard to the “Pay Czar,” how could anyone argue against the need for such a function given the outrageous levels of compensation the executives of big corporations have been granted by their Boards of Directors in the past? Of course, all this partisan rhetoric misses the point and even some Democrats in the Congress realize it.

The point really is the concentration and increase of power in the Executive branch. Once taken, it is seldom that a President gives it up. In fact, the candidate for change in “government as usual” is assuming record amounts. That is “change” perhaps as promised, but not “the change we need”. Senator Robert Byrd (Democrat) has written the President on the issue of the concentration of power. The longest serving Senator in history was critical of Executive privilege exercised by President Bush and in February, as reported by, he is proving to be an early critic of this power grab by Obama. Unfortunately, not even the “Byrd-man” could block Obama’s shots, allowing him to set the aforementioned scoring record. With all the Czars and Czarinas in place now, I guess that makes Barack Obama the “Czar Czar”.

The Founders recognized the potential threats to rights inherent in the coercive power of government, which led to the attempts to separate the 3 branches as a system of checks and balances. The breaches that have occurred since have often been related to wartime emergencies when it was deemed that the Commander-in-Chief needed extraordinary latitude to act. Over time though, the shifting of power to the Executive has resulted in increasing political discord, and extraordinary resentment at times. The nightmare future scenario would be an Executive able to override the Congress and/or the Judiciary through some exceptional combination of charismatic appeal and authoritarian command over key political and economic institutions, as well as the given military authority. But wait, the US is not at war anymore. The US is only engaged in “overseas contingency operations”. No need to worry.

Some commentators have actually expressed the view that there may be less need to worry about power abuses by Obama, because he is a Constitutional lawyer and therefore likely to be less abusive of power than Bush was in the previous administration. On the contrary, given the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor and Obama’s own reservations expressed about the US Constitution the opposite may be true.

So far, Congress has not been too challenging of the President’s micromanagement, which is unsurprising because it is dominated by Democrats. But that honeymoon may be fading as fast as individual rights in America. Those folks in Congress who watch polls every day—and that is probably most of them—are going to be more concerned about holding on to their own fiefdoms of power if they face reelection challenges in upcoming mid-term elections.

There are other signs of dissatisfaction with the level of central government intervention, particularly in economic and Constitutional matters. The challenge of the Chrysler Corporation sale to Fiat appealed to the Supreme Court is a prominent example. The real indication of a turning tide may be when the sycophantic mainstream media turns a critical eye to the new royalty in the White House. That is part of its “watchdog” role.

Unchecked power is a danger to society, particularly when government has for so long exceeded its role as protector of rights and become the coercive State, robbing, regulating and rewarding various political classes based on whether they generally support the leadership. “Men are not angels” and “power corrupts” represent concepts worth understanding as Americans observe the swelling ranks of Czars in the White House. The term “Czar” really has an ugly connotation and actually not a very successful history. I am puzzled by the fascination with the use of the term. One speculates whether some contemporary version of a “Mad Monk” might appear on the scene of the American Czarist Court to charm and intrigue. Rasputin came to a sad end but the October Revolution eventually wiped out the last of the Czars as well.

Today, Americans can still conduct their revolutions at the ballot box and exchange villains, thereby at least temporarily curtailing the corruption as each new regime moves to consolidate its power. If you remember that successive Presidents rarely let go of powers expanded by predecessors—even as they add more—the specter of dictatorial tyranny looms as an ever larger threat regardless of who holds the Oval Office.

©Copyright 2009 Edward Podritske

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