It’s a meaningless word, anyway

IT’S A MEANINGLESS WORD, ANYWAY…. The right-wing drive to target the Obama administration’s use of “czars” seems to be catching on among Republican lawmakers. On Fox News yesterday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said the president’s use of czars is “an affront to the Constitution.”

I did some research last night, trying to find examples of Lamar Alexander criticizing the Bush administration’s use of czars. After all, Bush/Cheney not only kept some of the czars left over from the Clinton and the H.W. Bush administrations, but also oversaw the creation of a “food safety czar,” a “cybersecurity czar,” a “regulatory czar,” an “AIDS czar,” a “manufacturing czar,” an “intelligence czar,” a “bird-flu czar,” and a “Katrina czar.” If Alexander is concerned about this “proliferation” of czars, surely he raised some concerns during the previous administration.

Except he didn’t. As far as I can tell, Alexander never said a word. Apparently, Republican czars are fine; Democratic czars are un-American. Just because. Good to know.

I think I have a solution to this meaningless dust-up: stop using the word “czar.” It’s a meaningless word, anyway. It’s not as if there’s a single person in the executive branch with the word “czar” in their formal title — it’s just a colloquial political euphemism.

Take this report from last night, for example, and notice the “c” word isn’t in it.

President Obama has named Ron Bloom as the administration’s senior counselor for manufacturing policy, the White House said Sunday night. The announcement came ahead of Mr. Obama’s planned remarks at the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s annual Labor Day picnic in Cincinnati.

Since February, Mr. Bloom has been a senior adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. He sits on the president’s automotive industry task force. The White House said Mr. Bloom would continue that position and would expand his role to coordinate the administration’s manufacturing policy with the Commerce, Treasury, Energy and Labor departments.

The White House said Mr. Bloom would work with the National Economic Council to help lead policy development and strategic planning for “the president’s agenda to revitalize the manufacturing sector.”

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? The president wants a special focus on the U.S. manufacturing sector, so he’ll have a senior advisor who’ll help oversee the White House manufacturing policy.

So, is Bloom the new “manufacturing czar” (a position created by George W. Bush)? Only if we choose to use the phrase. The alternative is to say that Ron Bloom will be advising the president on manufacturing policy. The “c” word has been deemed scary, but the job description is innocuous.

This has broad applicability. The president has a “Guantanamo closure czar”? No, he has a guy at the Pentagon whose focus is on closing the detention facility there. There’s nothing “czarist” about it. The president has a “Mideast peace czar”? No, he has a guy whose job it is to focus on negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. The president has a “Great Lakes czar”? No, he has a guy heading up the administration’s efforts to improve water quality in the Great Lakes.

None of these jobs are controversial. It only becomes “an affront to the Constitution” when it’s made to sound unnecessarily nefarious.