Ten Thousand Czars

FreedomPolitics.com, the new website produced by the Orange County Register, posted online today a piece I did back in 2000 on Czar mania.  (The article was a spinoff from Freedom in Chains).

Once more around the track for this one….


by James Bovard

The Founding Fathers sought to build a government that was constrained both by law and by the Bill of Rights. Modern legislators and bureaucrats have completely forgotten the reasons coercive power must be confined in narrow boundaries to avoid becoming a public curse. Instead of the rule of law, we have one new government czar and petty dictator after another.

Arbitrary power has become more fashionable as government itself has been exalted. It is symptomatic of the contemporary attitude towards government that the term “czar” now has a positive connotation.

Political and popular demands for appointments of a czar routinely stem from fundamental defects or contradictions in underlying federal laws. The first modern-era American “czar” was Energy Czar John Love, appointed by President Nixon in 1973 during the gas crisis, followed by other energy czars appointed by presidents Ford and Carter. Yet, while the appointment of an energy czar consoled some people sitting in gas lines, the fundamental cause of the energy shortages — federal price controls and other restrictions — were kept in place until Ronald Reagan took office in 1981.

When Congress enacted a law in 1982 that created a drug czar, President Reagan scorned the provision: “The creation of another layer of bureaucracy within the Executive Branch would produce friction, disrupt effective law enforcement, and could threaten the integrity of criminal investigations and prosecutions.… The so-called “drug Czar” provision was enacted hastily without thoughtful debate and without benefit of any hearings.”

The drug czar remained a largely ceremonial post until President Bush appointed William Bennett; however, the chain-smoking, tough-talking Bennett did not find the magic words to make all Americans virtuous.

President Clinton appointed a former general, Barry McCaffrey, as his second drug czar to prove that he was finally getting “tough” on drugs; the czar-general’s grandest moment was his threat to revoke the medical licenses of California and Arizona doctors who mentioned cannabis to patients after citizens of those states endorsed legalizing the medical use of marijuana. McCaffrey is also using federal law and subsidies to bribe television programs and Hollywood producers to covertly include anti-drug messages in the entertainment that Americans watch.

In recent years, Americans have also been blessed with a “health-care czar” (Ira Magaziner in 1993), an “AIDS czar” (various political appointees since 1993), and endless local “zoning czars” and “land-use czars.” But no matter how many czars are appointed, it is never enough. A government advisory panel in 1998 called for the appointment of a “food czar” to “oversee the patchwork of food safety regulations.”

And even where federal officials are not called “czars,” they have far more discretionary power than the Founding Fathers would have approved. Consider how the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has twisted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to maximize its power to punish. EEOC officials have proclaimed private companies guilty of violating or impeding “equal opportunity” because of their failure to race-norm test scores (i.e., covertly increase the scores of “protected groups” to make them appear more qualified than other test-takers); failure to disregard employee theft; failure to disregard an employee’s assaults on co-workers; and failure by the Hooters restaurant chain — a “Playboy club for rednecks” — to hire men to serve beer to its customers. The EEOC capitalizes on the vagueness of the concept of equal opportunity to maximize its power to manipulate findings of guilt or innocence.

Americans of earlier generations would be as shocked by the current adulatory use of the term “czar” as contemporary Americans would be shocked by the use of “fuehrer” as a compliment for a political leader. In an 1866 Supreme Court case involving the power of military governors in the conquered Southern states, one attorney declaimed to the court concerning his suffering plaintiffs: “So far as constitutional liberty is concerned, they might as well be living under a Czar or a Sultan, upon the banks of the Bosphorus or the Neva, as in this free country.” In an 1895 case, an attorney denounced a newly enacted income tax as conferring powers on the federal government “worthy of a Czar of Russia proposing to reign with undisputed and absolute power; but it cannot be done under this Constitution.”

The more arbitrary power government employees possess, the more they are transformed into a master class. At some point, the sheer accumulation of penalties and threats in the statute book fundamentally changes the citizen’s relation to the government. Rather than a government of laws, it becomes a government of threats, intimidation, and browbeating.

If Congress and the courts want to restore the credibility of the federal government, the federal statute book and the Code of Federal Regulations must be stripped of those edicts that hang like thousands of swrods of Damocles over the heads of peaceful Americans.

The time is come to end the reign of the czars and to cease expecting salvation from arbitrary power.

~James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy (St. Martin’s/Palgrave, 2006), and eight other books


11 Responses to Ten Thousand Czars

  1. Dirk W. Sabin January 26, 2009 at 1:33 pm #

    Finally ….Doktor Bovard raises the issue of how enormously idiotic this addled lust for “Czars” is. Exactly when did we start lionizing the Czar? This morning , i overheard something on the news talking about all the Presidents Cabinet Members, Special Advisors and recently minted “Czars” as constituting a “Super Cabinet”. Oh goody, our Executive Cabinet as a caped crusader. How about we establish a “Dumbass Czar” and said potentate can set to work doing wht Czars do best, implementing a pogrom against dumbasses, starting with the zone within the Washington Beltway, a kind of Seven Cities of Cibola of alarming idiots. “Czars”….cripes, this is rich.

  2. alpowolf January 26, 2009 at 6:14 pm #

    “Once more around the track for this one….”

    I guess that’s the thing that chafes me the most. The same stupid crap, over and over and over. Change? Cripes, don’t Americans use dictionaries anymore? They plainly don’t know what most of the words they’re spouting mean.

  3. Jim January 26, 2009 at 7:17 pm #

    On the bright side, I can post the article 9 years after it first came out and it looks like a novelty.

  4. Dirk W. Sabin January 27, 2009 at 11:33 am #

    Gee whiz, if you originally wrote the article nine years ago, then that means it was a problem during the Democrat reign under Saint Bubba and so that means that both political parties are suffering prolonged delirium tremens. Does this mean the entire political system is beyond redemption? I’m shocked I tell ya, SHOCKED.

  5. PM Connors, Phoenix, AZ August 22, 2009 at 8:59 pm #

    Thanks for the clarity. I have wondered about the origin or introduction of the term “czar” in American government and was always bothered by it. Of course, now the use has exploded and the shifts in power could lead to implosion.

  6. boby p. November 25, 2009 at 10:06 am #

    should be noted that the most czar-happy prez to date has been G.W. with 47 Czar appointments.


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