Saturday, April 18, 2009

18 CZARS and we are not on MARS

Roman historians inferred that a likely origin for this name was the Latin word for a thick head of hair (caesaries), probably a joke attached to a family known for its male pattern baldness. To call the balding Julius by the name Caesar was like calling a fat man “Slim.”

But this apparently humorous term came to be synonymous with “ruler.”

What defined the caesars, the kaisers, and the czars, of course, was that they were a law onto themselves, rather like today's autocratic new Russian Czar Vladimir Putin.

These rulers answered to no one and governed pretty much as they wished. Their undefined powers could be expanded by whim and caprice.

Foreign Policy magazine composed a list of 18 Obama administration czars, including Carl Browner, who is the energy czar, and Gil Kerlikowske, who is the drug czar. But almost immediately, typical Washington quibbling began over who is and who is not a czar.

Border Czar Alan Bersin, the Obama administration has by any reasonable reckoning passed the Romanov Dynasty in the production of czars. The Romanovs ruled Russia from 1613 with the ascension of Michael I through the abdication of Czar Nicholas II in 1917. During that time, they produced 18 czars. While it is harder to exactly count the number of Obama administration czars, with yesterday's appointment it seems fair to say it is now certainly in excess of 18.

In addition to Bersin, we have energy czar Carol Browner, urban czar Adolfo Carrion, Jr., infotech czar Vivek Kundra, faith-based czar Joshua DuBois, health reform czar Nancy-Ann DeParle, new TARP czar Herb Allison, stimulus accountability czar Earl Devaney, non-proliferation czar Gary Samore, terrorism czar John Brennan, regulatory czar Cass Sunstein, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, and Guantanamo closure czar Daniel Fried. We also have a host of special envoys that fall into the czar category including AfPak special envoy Richard Holbrooke, Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell, special advisor for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia Dennis Ross, Sudan special envoy J. Scott Gration and climate special envoy Todd Stern. That's 18.

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