From Alex Koppelman at Salon:
Lately, conservatives haven’t shown much of a knack for the facts. The healthcare reform debate has been marred by bogus accusations of death panels and the myth that reform will include a government mandate that taxpayers foot the bill for abortions. Now, some Republicans are extending that same treatment to the personnel decisions in President Obama’s administration.
On Sunday in the Washington Post, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, wrote a column warning of the number of informal policy “czars” employed by the White House.
Oh noez!!!!! Not the czars!!!!!
A few of them have formal titles, but most are simply known as “czars.” They hold unknown levels of power over broad swaths of policy. Under the Obama administration, we have an unprecedented 32 czar posts (a few of which it has yet to fill), including a “car czar,” a “pay czar” and an “information czar.” There are also czars assigned to some of the broadest and most consequential topics in policy, including health care, terrorism, economics and key geographic regions.
The Op-Ed has generated a great deal of backlash from liberals — and justifiably so. Hutchison’s use of the word “unprecedented” is completely misleading. The Bush administration employed numerous czars, and yet Hutchison makes no mention of this fact in her piece.
The right has seized on the term “czars” so aggressively that it’s hard not to read it as an attempt to play up allegations that Obama is some kind of communist. In July, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va. wrote his own piece in the Post, alleging that Obama was creating a “virtual army of ‘czars,'” adding, “At last count, there were at least 32 active czars that we knew of, meaning the current administration has more czars than Imperial Russia.”
[That’s little Eric helping Princess Kaya fight the czars the lower left corner of the box.]
“Russia” is the word that gives away the strategy. After all, they were all commies over there! But the use of the term in this way must be baffling to anyone with even a basic familiarity with high-school world history. Russia’s czars were in no way communist. […] Obama’s czars get appointed by the White House and have no direct authority over anything the federal government does (Cabinet officials, not the czars, are in charge of how to implement policy).
Hutchison is in a tough fight with incumbent Rick Perry for the Republican nomination for governor of Texas. So her piece seems like a blatant attempt to appeal to the same voters in the state who liked Perry’s suggestion that Texas could secede from the United States — i.e., the hardcore right-wing base.
From THINK PROGRESS:
On July 30, the Washington Post gave House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) space to write an op-ed railing on President Obama’s “virtual army of ‘czars.’” Today, the Washington Post allowed Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to write a similar op-ed complaining that these czars set “a dangerous precedent that undermines the Constitution’s guarantee of separated powers.” Hutchison tries to make these officials seem shady and mysterious by noting that many of them don’t even have “formal titles” […]
In fact, ALL of these officials have formal titles. For example, Hutchison cites Van Jones, the “green jobs czar.” But Jones had the title of Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation at the Council on Environmental Quality.
Hutchison’s lie mirrors a claim by Fox News’ Sean Hannity, who recently said that the only reason he calls these appointees “czars” is “because the White House itself does.” Of course, it’s the media — not the White House — that is driving the term.
Hutchison does not list the 32 individuals whom she considers to be “czars.” But if she’s relying on the same list as Cantor — who also cited 32 people — then several of them are far from unaccountable; they’ve actually already been confirmed by the Senate.
From Matt Yglesias at THINK PROGRESS:
If Kay Bailey Hutchison wants to claim that “A few of them have formal titles, but most are simply known as ‘czars’” then fine. Maybe she’s ignorant, or maybe she’s a huge liar. […] Honestly, I don’t care.
What I do care about is The Washington Post. This is a newspaper. They charge people money to buy it. The idea is that if you pay money in order to buy it, you’ll become better informed. But they regularly publish material in their opinion pages that demonstrates a total disregard for this function. The article in question manages to not so much as mention that all of our recent presidents have employed “czars.” I find it completely impossible to believe that Washington Post editors are unaware that George W. Bush employed “czars.” […] And I find it completely impossible to believe Washington Post editors don’t grasp the relevance of this fact to assessing the credibility of Hutchison’s complaint. Her use of phrases such as “unprecedented” to describe Obama’s czar-related conduct, combined with the total lack of context, is transparently designed to mislead the audience. And the Washington Post decided to print it!