It may be considered a strange case of "Back to the Future," halfway around the world. Twenty years after the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the apparent demise of Soviet communism, the United States appears to be emulating pre-Bolshevik Russia. Without knowing exactly how or why, America has become the land of the "czars," men and women appointed by some undefined process, often of dubious legality, literally to rule over various segments and activities of our political, social, and economic life. America has a Science Czar, a School Safety Czar, a Car Czar, and even a Czars Czar.
It didn't start with President Barack Obama, but the tendency to appoint unelected officials, in many cases unconfirmed by any legislative process, to high-level positions of authority over the political and economic life of the nation has greatly accelerated in the past year, owing in part to the fact that the United States has taken over corporations in the financial and automotive sector that had previously been governed primarily by a private-sector free market. Thus we have an Automotive Recovery Czar, a Compensation Czar, and others.
Some members of Congress, belatedly jealous of their political turf, have been grumbling about the number of new offices that the President has created without Senate approval. Congress, of course, has control over appropriations, and running all of these new offices costs something--though many czars have been appointed with salaries undisclosed. Those who remember our Republic's founding documents, those parchments preserved under glass in our nation's capital, may recall one of the charges leveled against the British King in our Declaration of Independence: "He has erected a Multitude of new Offices and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harass our People and eat out their Substance."
Thomas Jefferson and his fellow patriots might not have imagined that the new Republic they had midwifed would be the land of the (more or less) free and the home of the czars. But America in the age of Obama has made czar production a growth industry. House Minority Leader John Boehner has accused the President of circumventing and subverting the Constitution by appointing more than 30 "czars" to oversee government operations, most of them not subject to Senate confirmation. Many of the positions and responsibilities duplicate those of cabinet-level officials and their departments, he said.
"He clearly is circumventing the Constitution, in my view, and I think the heat continues to build on the administration to deal with this," Boehner said last fall in an interview with Newsmax TV. "It's one thing to have domestic policy advisors or international policy advisors, but to have this many people at the White House who have really more control than the Cabinet secretaries, I think is a subversion of the Constitution."
Of course, the unconstitutionality entails not just the appointing of czars without Senate approval, but also includes much of what the czars are actually doing, from telling businesses how much they can compensate employees to regulating schools. We have, alas, reached a point in our history where subverting the Constitution is almost "as American as apple pie." Indeed, though the Republicans may view it as an Obama phenomenon, czarist America goes back at least to the days of the New Deal and has been perpetuated by both Republican and Democratic administrations ever since.
Any list of so-called czars is to some extent subjective, since the word "czar" is not in any official title and which positions qualify for the designation may be debatable. According to Wikipedia, the current use of the term, once reserved for the rulers of pre-revolution Russia, started during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, who had 12 such appointees. The number dropped to six under Truman and one in Eisenhower's White House. Reagan had only one, the Director of the White House Drug Abuse Policy, and George H. …