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Politics of Literalism

A good comment from etdean1 on my "Czars and Secretaries" post:

Keeping track of all the things Glenn Beck doesn't get is a losing battle.

The czar thing also bugged me because it's not an official title. Like if people would have called for the resignation of Tom Delay back in the day because a hammer can't be the Majority Leader. After all, hammers are inanimate objects and it's an affront to American values to have a lifeless tool at such a high office.

Right. No one fills out their IRS forms by listing their occupation as "Czar." If you really wanted an end to "czars," you should ask the media to stop calling people "czars." If you want an end to hired advisers, counselors, staffers, lawyers, and functionaries of other sorts, well, that's a different thing entirely. It's more of an attack on the way capitalism staffs itself.

By Ezra Klein  |  September 21, 2009; 12:18 PM ET
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And if the whole capitalist system is guilty, then isn't this an indictment of our democratic institutions in general? I put it to you, Ezra - isn't this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, Glen Beck can do whatever you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to him badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen!

/Animal House

Posted by: newjersey_lawyer | September 21, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

I'm dating myself, but I can remember the first "czar": Reagan's appointment of Bill Bennett as the "drug czar". It was definitely a media-generated term then, too. At the time, "czar" was laced with a tongue-in-cheek irony (Reagan being the Cold War warrior and all). It was just fun to day, just as referring to the "teabaggers" mildly amuses everyone.

Imagine if, instead, Bill Bennett had been dubbed the "drug poobah". What would Glenn Beck be saying today?

Posted by: kashford | September 21, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Surely you're not suggesting that Glen Beck's critique is less than substantiative?

Posted by: adamiani | September 21, 2009 1:21 PM | Report abuse

It seems the solution to this problem - if it IS a problem in need of a solution - is to simply re-label some of the media types who criticize the use of the term "czar" while at the same time perpetuating its very usage.

Might I suggest some renamings:

Glenn Beck - Czar of Teabaggery
Bill O'Reilly - Czar of the Shout Down
Rush Limbaugh - Drug Czar - oh wait.

Posted by: | September 21, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

I disagree with etdean1.

There is a long and honored Congressional tradition of having lifeless tools in high office.

Posted by: jadedoptimist562 | September 21, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Kashford, you may be dating yourself, but you're also wrong. According to various blog posts appropriately deriding the manufactured controversy of czars, the term predates the regrettable William Bennett.

According to Wikipedia(1):
""The earliest known use of the term for a U.S. government official was in the administration of Franklin Roosevelt (1933-1945), during which twelve positions were so described. The term was revived, mostly by the press, to describe officials in the Nixon and Ford administrations. Subsequently, until the George W. Bush administration (2001-2009), the term was little used.""

Now, like you, I remember Bennett being frequently called the Drug Czar, so I don't agree with the passage in Wikipedia where it says the term was little used between Nixon-as-tragedy and Nixon-as-tragedic-farce (i.e. Dubya), but I have no reason to doubt its claims that the term was used under FDR.


P.S. Could we please get simple html functions, such as blockquotes and hyperlinks? Even just italics?

Posted by: WarrenTerra | September 21, 2009 3:26 PM | Report abuse

along the lines of jadedoptimist562, I love the description of Tom DeLay as a "lifeless tool." I think it fits.

Posted by: khasle | September 21, 2009 5:11 PM | Report abuse

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