Wednesday, October 07, 2009


by Dick Mac

I once worked with a young man whose nickname was The Czar. I have no idea how he earned the moniker, but when people talk about him today they still refer to him as Czar.

It's an amusing word: czar. It's wholly un-American sounding. It's a word that evokes thoughts of far away places and kings and tyrants. All of my thoughts of czars are relatively negative. None of the Russian czars are, in American culture, presented as great leaders, innovators, or historical figures worthy of glory.

I was surprised the first time I heard the word used to refer to a member of a government staff. It was during the Reagan administration when some guy was installed as the drug czar.

As a drug user, I found this very amusing: a king of drugs! But, that's not what was intended. I got the sense that this would be a person who would be ruthless about his prosecution of drug users, dealers, and importers (with the focus on the users, of course, not the importers). This official would stop at nothing to address the 'drug problem.'

The real drug problem is not the existence, distribution, or use of drugs, but the lack of quality control, distribution methods, and taxation; but, the drug czars do nothing about these issues. Since this czar would not play any role in civilizing the drug trade, his image is draconian. The drug czar was going to round 'em up and lay down the law.

Czars aren't really presented as nice people, they are presented as can-do guys (and they seem to always be men), who mean business, and will take no names or give any quarter. I think all czars are thought of this way; well, maybe not Peter the Great; but, sadly I learned few details of his illustriousness in my limited education.

The title czar is used to make the person sound mean and effective.

Nobody wants to grow-up to be a czar! I think that even my former colleague was a bit surprised to find out he had grown-up to be a czar.

It did not surprise me when this word was used during the Reagan Administration. Reagan effectively militarized his presentation of America, without actually using the military. He pretended we were tough guys, even though Reagan and his vice-president (referred to as a panty-waist by Jimmy Carter) were pretty major sissies, and like most of the conservatives I know, feign a toughness that betrays them in real-life situations. They talk big, they use tough-guy words, and they present an image that makes us believe they will actually get things done. You know the results.

We only need to look at the effectiveness of the drug czars to see that conservatives are always full of crap and never have any real solutions to real problems. During the reign of Reagan's drug czars was born the crack epidemic, which flourished in a thousand points of light during the reign of Bush-The-Pantywaist. Plenty of money has, however, been funnelled to privatized prisons that house people convicted of drug offenses.

Suddenly, the conservatives don't like czars and they don't want the current President to be allowed to have any. Czars, I guess, are reserved for the right-, er, wrong-wing.

Am I the only one who thinks it's odd that Congress suddenly thinks that Presidents shouldn't have advisers? Would Fox News and the congressional conservatives have talked about controlling czars if John McCain had become President? I think not.

Tune-in tomorrow. Perhaps I will discuss tsars.

'Czar' wars pits White House against lawmakers


Sebastian said...

well said, per usual

Adam said...

Czar, like kaiser and shah and Jersey (as in New Jersey), come from Caesar. My great grandfather, who I never met, used to refer to Czar Nicholas as Czar Nicholas the Bastard so much that my mother entered high school believing that was his honorific.