Here a Czar, there a Czar — but so what?

Recently, many Republican and conservative pundits have taken to blasting  President Barack Obama for the many so-called “czars” currently running around Washington on behalf of the administration.  Some, like Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, have declared these White House operatives “unconstitutional.”  Others, including Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston, have introduced legislation denying the president the ability to pay any “czars” unless they are first confirmed by the Senate. 

The number of “Obamaczars” is as imprecise as the term itself, but most observers agree the number is somewhere between 30 and 40 (not that different from the number employed by Mr. Bush II).  In a federal government which employs some 2,000,000 people, 30 to 40 employees known as ”czars” is not very many.  But still, they make a tempting target.

The controversy is actually not a new one.  All modern presidents, certainly since FDR (whose key adviser, Harry Hopkins, was known around the nation’s capital as the “Deputy President”), have hired men and women who do not have to be confirmed by the Senate, to provide advice and to assist them in carrying out the myriad tasks any president faces.  All of  these former presidents, right up to Obama’s immediate successor, George W. Bush, were criticized by their political opponents for allowing “power” to be wielded by people not confirmed by the Senate.  However, the charges against a Harry Hopkins or an H.R. Haldeman, who was one of Richard Nixon’s much-maligned assistants, are as pointless as are the criticisms of those serving Obama in 2009.

The fact is, these men and women are not subject to Senate confirmation and their “power,” such as it is, comes simply from however much access they have to the president and how much he decides to listen to them, as with any number of other employees within the executive branch of the government.  In the same respect, some cabinet officers — all of who are subject to confirmation — may not themselves possess much presidential juice, simply because the top guy doesn’t put much stock in their advice. 

Congressional whining about such matters is nothing more than feckless partisanship.  Republicans by and large don’t complain about Republican “czars” just as Democrats rarely complain about those serving a president with a “D” after his name.  When the Republicans controlled the Congress, as they did during the first six years of the last Bush Administration, and had they been sincerely concerned about the “constitutionality” of “czars,” they could have done something about it.  They could have introduced and passed legislation such as Republican Rep. Kingston has now proposed (in a Democrat-controlled Congress), limiting the number or pay of presidential advisers, or made them all subject to Senate confirmation.  They could have cut off or limited funding for the Bush “czars.”  But they didn’t; and Democrats — some of whom complained about Bush’s bevy of “czars” — clearly aren’t going  to take such non-partisan steps now that a member of their party occupies the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

And by the way, if any “czar,” now or in the future, does something the Congress finds really reprehensible, the powers that be on the Hill can in fact subpoena that person to appear and answer questions under oath; such a process does not require that a person be subject to Senate confirmation.  It does require that Congress have the interest and the backbone to take such a step as opposed to just bloviating about it, which is, after all, much easier.

28 comments Add your comment


October 2nd, 2009
6:48 am

Well said.
Instead of getting rid of the “Czars,” why don’t both sides get rid of partisan politics and focus on what’s good for the nation. Actually there’s about as much chance of getting that done as there is of getting rid of “Czars,” or preventing lobbyists from buying politicians.
The old Georgia definition of a good politician works well in Washington, too: A good politician is one who when bought, stays bought.

Road Scholar

October 2nd, 2009
6:49 am

Bravo, Bob! It’s about time someone on the right acknowledges that these MANAGERS do have a place in ASSISTING our President/government. Will both parties stop throwing out insinuations and get down to legislating? If it isn’t pertinent, zip it!

Bitter EX Democrackkk

October 2nd, 2009
7:41 am

when people say ‘every president has had ‘czars’ or advisors’, tell them that no president has ever had a gang of communists advising them, like Obummer

Ayn Rand Was Right

October 2nd, 2009
8:21 am

Mr. Barr – I respectfully point out that the issue with Mr. Obama’s myriad of czars, is not that they exist, but who they are and what factions they represent. If Bush had appointed a czar who was previously a Grand Poohbah of the KKK to czar the diversity of our nation or one of the heads of the Right to Life crowd to czar Healthcare, then he too would have received justified outrage. Partisanship for the sake of partisanship is petty and childish behavior. Albeit behavior regularly exhibited by most elected officials today, the current outcry is justified in specific cases of extremely poor judgement by the President. Unfortunately, as is evidenced by our current single party bipolar (credit to a fellow blogger) system, the American people no longer stand up for liberty and justice for all, They run from fantastic factoid to fantastic factoid, waving their professionally printed signs for or against anything that their newscast or affiliation of choice suggests. It shall not be long before we bid adieu to the wonderful republic many hold so dear, the persona of our people is already “cold war” Russian.

Ted Striker

October 2nd, 2009
8:30 am

Excellent column. I appreciate the wisdom of a president having experts around him to offer views and opinions on specific subjects — so he can formulate his own opinion with as much information as possible.

Only difference between Obama and Bush having czars is that Obama probably understands what the people are talking about.


October 2nd, 2009
9:09 am

I agree with others, this is an well written, well thought out column.

I would add that the President has the duty to administer the Executive Branch of the government. If he believes using “czars” will make his administrative efforts more efficient, so be it.

Congress has their own problems they need to be working on “fixin”.
Maybe Congress could be more efficient if Kingston put his efforts there.

Michael H. Smith

October 2nd, 2009
10:18 am

If Presidents did a better job of picking their cabinet members why would they need these additional “exclusive advisers” or Czars?


October 2nd, 2009
10:20 am

Get rid of the the war on drugs and rid us of the Drug Czar!! (I think this was Reagan’s Idea) For 70 years the war on drugs has been a failure. Tax drugs and we have a win fall of tax dollars, plus the savings from the Czar’s pay, overly staffed DEA, state and local police and at a cost of $2000 per an arrest and 800,000 arrests last year of pot possession, more savings.

3rd Party Guy

October 2nd, 2009
11:39 am

Mark, stop being so logical and reasonable, or the government may kick your door in. :)
I prefer to call it The (Self-Righteous) Job Program on Drugs. Just think of all the jobs lost if drugs were decriminalized.

Hi Rand, I’m not sure where the bipolar part came in, but others have been saying and writing that we have only one party for years. I think Bob has repeatedly stated, “there’s not a dime’s difference”. I used to just say Dems and Repubs are two sides of the same stained coin.

As far as the petty partisanship goes, it serves to primary purposes:


They know exactly what they’re doing don’t they.

3rd Party Guy

October 2nd, 2009
11:40 am

oops, that should be Two. I can spell…can’t type.:)


October 2nd, 2009
11:45 am

I really don’t have a problem with president having czars with salaries paid for by US taxpayers, but it would seem that if they are really needed then a new permanent cabinet position should be established with congrssional oversite to ensure the appointee is actually qualified and not just a political payback at taxpayer expense.

Shaneneeee Faneneeeeeee

October 2nd, 2009
11:46 am

Obama is corrupt, simple as that. “In 2009 and 2010 all existing buisnessess will receive a $3,000 tax credit for each additional full-time employee hired.” – Barack Obama. ???? “To reform healthcare we are going to debate around a big table. These debates will be televised on C-SPAN so people can see who are making the arguments on behalf of their constituents and who are making the arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies. And so, this way the people will be able to stay involved in this process.” – Barack Obama. ???????? “Americans are downright mean.” – Michelle Obama.


October 2nd, 2009
11:55 am

Well, they might just be advisors and friends, but we, the taxpayer, are paying their salaries. I am sick of the huge growth of government employment, while manufacturing jobs are disappearing in this country. It is absolutely disgusting. I wonder how the bozos will be paid for when all American industry is shut down. And Obama and his bride spend taxpayer money on bs things–like family trips. It is all so patently bogus and I am so thoroughly disgusted.


October 2nd, 2009
12:08 pm

The only value, as far as I can tell, in all this ranting and raving about Obama’s czar appointments is to make people aware of exactly how ‘off-center’ the sitting President really is. For good or ill, we are known by the company we keep. Nixon’s men were thugs, in terms of their personalities (Liddy, Haldeman, etc.). That gave plenty of fuel to the Dems when they were able to expose RMN. Obama’s choices are abhorrent, not due to their personalities, but due to their political and philosophical positions…an advocate of legal representation for animals? An apologizer for gay statutory rape? These people aren’t just “odd,” they’re bizarre.


October 2nd, 2009
12:10 pm

Oddly enough, I think everyone is right here. Bob’s right that this shouldn’t be an agenda item right now as it’s just not up there in priority as other issues. But Joan, et. al. are right that why are we paying for all of this. Don’t we elect 100’s of congressmen to decide things that need deciding? Plus a cabinet to focus on the executive branch decision support for the president? So in theory, we shouldn’t need additional levels of advisers on the payroll if those above them are doing their jobs. Less government = more money in the pockets of businesses and individuals = everyone wins. That’s the reason I support Bob Barr each time he runs.


October 2nd, 2009
1:07 pm

Gatorman770: The reason the Prez has Czars is to avoid having Congressional oversight…..or Senate approval…..etc. Czars are under the radar and accountable to one person: The prez.


October 2nd, 2009
2:22 pm

As a parent I am appalled at Obama’s appointment of a child molestor to “Safe Schools Czar”, WTF is wrong with Obama? I get that people can disagree about policy but Obama is appointing people like Kevin Jennings is criminal. Mr Jennings is a mandated reporter and under State Law was REQUIRED to report these incidents of child rape. Of course like Obama he just lied about it and threatened people to silence them until HIS OWN WORDS were found and reported. Obama is a disgrace and is preverted to allow a child molestation supporter like Jennings anywhere near a school. I guess Democrats are supporters of child rape and molestation because NOT ONE SINGLE DEMOCRAT has had a problem with Kevin Jennings. Maybe they want their children raped by Kevin Jennings sick buddies.


October 2nd, 2009
2:25 pm

SPQR_US – wow, now that’s a serious lack of judgment on Obama’s part. This guy just keeps feeding the rest of us reasons to vote him out in 2012.


October 2nd, 2009
2:53 pm

Oh yeah it seems our old pal Bill Ayers wrote the forward to pervert Jenning’s book: “Queering Primary Education.”

Personally I think primary school is the wrong place to discuss sexual topics gay or straight but hey Obama supports terrorists, ACORN & Child Molestors, I guess those are the people that he wants to be touching our children.


October 2nd, 2009
3:16 pm

No problem from me with having Czars,just a problem of who some of them are and what they’ve done with their life up until now.Van Jones was the poster boy for bad choices.There are others.If Obama is listening to these people then there are going to be problems in the future.


October 2nd, 2009
3:46 pm


Taken out of context, the statement by Cass Sunstein seems bizarre but is, in fact, practiced everyday. Your local prosecutor serves as that legal representative in cases of animal abuse and neglect that are brought forth by the police or animal advocacy groups like the ASPCA and Humane Society. When pressed Mr. Sunstein made it clear that wild animals, or wild game, would be offered no such protections unless they were willfully abused. Again, this law already exists. The point of Mr. Sunsteins idea was that someone with an interest in the overall welfare of an animal, i.e caretaker, owner or other interested party, could bring charges or file suit against someone who violates existing laws.

As for the gay statutory rape apologizer the facts, again, support a somewhat less radical outcome. Seems the state of Massachusetts, where Mr. Jennings is alleged to have commited a crime by not reporting the issue to police, has a consent age of 16. The young man in question met that criteria, meaning his relationship with the older man was not in violation of any law, hence no report from Mr. Jennings.


October 2nd, 2009
4:02 pm

I don’t think an older man who has relations with 16 year old boys should have any position of influence in this country. Clearly his actions speak to his lack of judgment.

I’ll give Mr. Sunstein a fair chance. The law does require odd sounding statements, and your explanation here is rational.


October 2nd, 2009
4:29 pm

Mr. Jennings did not have relations with the young man in question. Mr. Jennings was counseling the young man when the admission was made that the young man was involved in a relationship with someone else. To be fair Mr. Jennings founded a group that promoted an agenda that centered around teaching school age children a tolerance of homosexuality. Not something I agree with, but he reportedly found religion, attending a Protestant monestary and becoming an active board member. It’s not my position to decide if Mr. Jennings has truly embraced religion, but I’ll happily relay the facts that otherwise might be ommitted.

Hillbilly Deluxe

October 2nd, 2009
5:00 pm

why don’t both sides get rid of partisan politics and focus on what’s good for the nation

A noble sentiment but I’d hate to be hanging from a rope until that happens.


October 3rd, 2009
11:49 am

The ONLY reason that Kevin Jennings is being slammed and slandered in the way that the right-wingers are currently doing is because he is gay.

The facts are that Jennings ALLEGEDLY failed to report a relationship between a teenager and an older man. That, and a speech he gave praising the life of a pioneering gay rights activist who at one point in HIS life protested the exclusion of NAMBLA (an organization to which he DID NOT belong) from parades, on the grounds that such parades should be inclusive. From this, Jennings has been demonized, vilified and slandered by the right-wing.

El Jefe

October 4th, 2009
12:05 am

Andrew Jackson started this whole thing, with his kitchen cabinet, but then again they were unpaid advisors to the President, maybe we should go back and re-think this whole czar thing and make the positions unpaid? Old Hickory even had a member of the Press as part of his kitchen cabinet.


October 4th, 2009
1:13 am

Good writing, Bob. I barely remember caring about who Bush appointed as czar for this and czar for that because it was about as big of a deal as who his speechwriters were. Most of us liberals were more concerned with appointees like Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzalez.

The party structure sure does a lot to bog this country down and keep anything substantial from getting done. I remember thinking Mr. Barr was a little out there in his dogging of Clinton, but at least there was substance behind it. Many Republicans in office actually believe Obama was born in Kenya despite all the evidence against such an idea. Others think he and other Democrats are really planning to let people die to reform health care. At some point, a few grownups need to arise in the GOP to point out how stupid such things seem — not to mention the Obamalympics people. I think this is the first time I have ever seen a mass of Americans rooting against us getting the Olympics.


October 4th, 2009
9:58 am

Bob, excellent column.. It’s this kind of logic and caring about reality as opposed to partisan politics that caused me to vote for you in the last election. Now, if only Washington would wake up and take a look at the real world. It doesn’t make a hill of beans worth of difference who Obama, Bush or Joe the Plumber has as an adviser, as long as they have people who know about the issues at hand.