Discrediting Right-Wing Lies About Obama's "Czars"
by Nathan Empsall, Wed Sep 09, 2009 at 02:33:41 PM EDT
Cross-posted from Blue Moose Democrat.
Reading up on Van Jones last night, I said to myself, "I need to write a post on right-wing outrage about Obama's `czars.'" I guess great (fairly decent?) minds think alike; today's Center for American Progress "Progress Report" e-mail was titled "Crazy Czar Conspiracies." I dug up many of the links and facts in this post myself, but I also owe a major hat tip to Think Progress.
Right-wing talking heads like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Lou Dobbs have decided that any presidential advisor not approved by the Senate is an unconstitutional "czar" with too much power. Unfortunately, their outrage is filled with lies (many of the "czars" they complain about WERE confirmed by the Senate), hypocrisy (Bush had even more "czars" than Obama), and bad policy (what's wrong with the President having an advisor on violence against women?). First things first. What is a czar? According to Wikipedia,
The title `czar' is an informal term for certain high-level officials who direct or oversee federal operations on a given topic or who coordinate policies between different departments on a given topic... In the United States, the term czar has been used by the media to refer to appointed executive branch officials since at least the early 1940s... Since then, a number of ad hoc, temporary as well as permanent United States Executive Branch positions have been established that have been referred to in this manner. For example, President Richard Nixon created two offices whose heads became known as "czars" in the popular press: drug czar in 1971, and energy czar in 1973.
According to this Wikipedia article, Barack Obama has 32 "czars," three less than did Repub George W. Bush. The right-wing noise machine, which to my memory was nowhere to be found when Bush appointed a swine-flu czar, is outraged that a Democratic president would dare assume to have the same rights as a Repub president. Beck even lied about these numbers, claiming in June that"Other presidents have also named czars, but no one can hold a candle to President Obama who has named 16 czars so far!"
After the resignation of Jones, the "White House Council on Environmental Quality Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation,"Hannity declared, "We got rid of one [czar], and my job starting tomorrow night is to get rid of every other one. I promise you that!" According to Neil Cavuto, these czars - who actually have titles like White House Adviser on Violence Against Women, Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, and Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for International Affairs - are "evil despots accountable to no one." That's right - if the President wants someone to inform him about violence against women but does not subject her to a lengthy and unnecessarily brutal vetting process, than she clearly must be described with the same word that Bush applied to Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il.
It gets even better below the jump.
Earlier this month, Repub strategist Angela McGlowan appeared on Fox News to ask, "What are we, in Russia? Having czars?" The idea of the President of the United States surrounding himself with tyrannical Soviet monarchs is a frightening one, but it's simply not true. You can't make up a word yourself (since "czar" is a press term) and then treat it as if it is accepted fact and law, nor can you reasonably compare an ADVISOR to a bloodthirsty dictator - not that Fox News has ever tried to explain the comparison. To them, showing Photoshopped pictures of presidential advisers wearing Russian clothing is the same thing as actual journalism, which makes sense given that their motto is, "We distort, you decide."
Beck's numbers and McGlowan's comparisons aren't the only lies at play here. Many of the people that Hannity and Co. claim are undemocratic "czars"were confirmed to their positions by the U.S. Senate. These people include (based on a Beck list) John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and - wait for it - Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair.
This is not just partisanship - it's also hypocrisy. Karl Rove, a former top Bush advisor who was never subjected to Senate confirmation and was often called the "domestic policy czar,"tweeted, "Darned if I can figure out all the czars, except a giant expansion of presidential power." And then there's Bill O'Reilly. Now, let's be clear here, I can't find any real evidence of O'Reilly himself attacking Obama over the czar issue, but guests on his show, from Beck to Laura Ingraham, have certainly done so. And yet back in 2001 and 2002, O'Reilly demanded that Bush create the very positions - immigration czar, car czar - that Beck and Dobbs now call undemocratic.
If Beck, Hannity, and their crowd had their way, this country would come to its knees, and their party knows it. Bush had even more advisers than Obama, and none of these hacks complained. That's how you know that this is not actually about democracy - it is about putting politics before policy, arrogance before patriotism, and uninformed fear-mongering before reason. I, for one, am GLAD the President has people advising him on the auto crisis, government waste, and climate change. I am GLAD he has asked George Mitchell, a man who brokered peace in Northern Ireland and is respected on both sides of the aisle, to try to get the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. I don't think Mitchell is an "evil despot," and I didn't think Bush's Middle East envoy, General Anthony Zinni, was an "evil despot" either. But according to Cavuto, they're all going straight to hell.
Beck, Dobbs, Cavuto and Co. are one of two things. If they believe this claptrap, then they are uninformed, incompetent, and stupid. If they know it's all bunk but don't care, then they are willing to subject their country and its 300 million inhabitants not to sound policy but to dangerous games. I pose the question, which better fits the definition of "evil"? Playing partisan games with deadly issues like violence against women, Darfur, and the Middle East, or seeking out expert advice on how to best manage all those issues at once?