The czar madness won't end

Republicans, spurred on by Fox News, push a measure to cut off the pay of some presidential advisors

Published September 16, 2009 7:30PM (EDT)

Casting aside regard for historical accuracy and presidential precedent, a few big name Republicans have been castigating President Obama for what they say is  his "unprecedented" use of so-called "czars" in his administration. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas and Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va. -- not to mention Fox News' Glenn Beck -- are just a few of the more notable conservatives who have warned about how Obama is allowing the government to be influenced by unelected policy advisors.

The subtext of the czar controversy is an attempt by Republicans to link Obama to socialism and Communism -- an illogical connection for many reasons, not least of which is that the czars of Russia weren't Communist -- they were a monarchy -- and they were in fact replaced by the Bolsheviks.

But logic be damned, Republicans are moving ahead with their czar-based assault on the Obama White House. On July 15, Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., introduced the "Czar Accountability and Reform (CZAR) Act of 2009," a measure that would prohibit any presidential advisor who hasn't been approved by the Senate from receiving a taxpayer-funded salary. When Kingston first put forward the legislation, he had 34 co-sponsors. Now that number has skyrocketed to 99 co-sponsors, including one Democrat, Rep. William Clay of Missouri. The list of Republican co-sponsors includes Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. and Cantor.

The legislation has sent the czar debate to whole new levels of ridiculous. For one, all of these Republicans apparently have very short memories. Former President George W. Bush appointed many czars during his presidency (as did Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush) -- a fact the Democratic National Committee has not been shy in pointing out in their attempt to hit back at the czar issue. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who has made public statements criticizing Obama's czars, actually supported Bush's appointment of an "AIDS czar" and "manufacturing czar." And though Karl Rove served as Bush's "domestic policy czar," this hasn't stopped him from arguing that Obama's use of czars amounts to a “giant expansion of presidential power.”

In e-mail blasts, the DNC argued that such hypocrisy doesn't seem to bother Republicans. While appearing on Fox News, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Ca. was asked about this seeming double standard and admitted that Republicans didn't object when it was Bush who was doing the czar-appointing.

On top of that, as Dave Weigel has shown at the Washington Independent, Republicans have ignored that many of Obama's czars have formal titles and have in fact received Senate confirmation, while others are merely continuations of positions created by George W. Bush.

By Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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Barack Obama Karl Rove Michele Bachmann R-minn.