It all ended in a dank, half lit basement in the Ural Mountains in July 1918. The last Czar of Russia, Nicholas II, and his family were summarily executed by the Bolsheviks. For centuries, the Romanov family had ruled Russia as autocrats, allowing for no democratic reforms, suppressing free speech and assembly, and only abolishing serfdom in 1861. For an administration so concerned with messaging, I find it odd that the White House has stuck with the “czar” model for the government bureaucrat in charge of handling the Ebola crisis and “crossing all the T’s and dotting all the I’s going forward” in relation to the government’s response, as President Obama explained during the announcement of his appointment of Democrat operative Ron Klain for this seemingly important position. Czarist Russia is such a dark and sad reminder of government gone wrong.
The czars were autocrats, embodying the sovereignty of the state without any input from a parliamentary body or public pressure courtesy of an antagonistic press. It seems that Mr. Klain will be far from autocratic: in fact, White House spokesman Josh Ernest reports that Klain will report to National Security Adviser Susan Rice. That should make everyone feel better.
The administration’s point person, at least on Ebola messaging, does not have direct and unfettered access to the president. Instead, he must report to a cabinet-level official who herself is mired in messaging controversy courtesy of the Benghazi boondoggle. The alleged purpose of a “czar,” at least as far as American politics and government is concerned, is to have one person in charge of a very narrowly defined issue with broad and far-reaching powers to “fix” the problem outside of the normal bureaucratic maze. Mr. Klain autocratic chops aren’t serious enough to handle this, he hasn’t been empowered to do just that, and by any measure he’s not fit to touch the hem of Czar Nicholas’s imperial robe.
The “Ebola czar” appointment betrays a few simple facts about how Washington, and this White House in particular, operates. First, it is apparent that the president is perfectly content with insulating himself from real life and death issues that require presidential leadership. There are more czars running around Washington than are buried in the Peter-Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg. Their job titles read like a list of “major crises of the Obama administration:” WMD czar, Urban Affairs czar, Trade czar, Technology czar, Recovery czar, Manufacturing czar, Middle East czar, Performance czar, and the king fish himself, an Asian Carp czar. All told, President Obama has appointed 38 czars in his six years in office, five more than President Bush appointed in his eight years in office and 27 more than FDR named during the vast expansion of the federal bureaucracy that was the New Deal. Does anyone know who these people are and what they do all day?
On the other side of the aisle, Republican Senators Jerry Moran, Rob Portman and John McCain are seriously misguided in their call for an Ebola czar. These Republican senators have been in the vanguard of advocacy for President Obama’s appointment of an Ebola czar, and they are Republicans. Shouldn’t they be advocating for smaller, more efficient government? I can think of any number of sitting government officials who should find dealing with such a crisis part of their portfolio: the Secretary of Defense, Homeland Security, or Health and Human Services might be an obvious choice, or perhaps the National Security Adviser herself. The Vice President, a government official with few official duties, also might be an ideal choice, especially given the current occupant of the office’s knowledge of the bureaucracy given his long years of service in the Senate. There are plenty of high-ranking officials within the current bureaucracy that can handle the government’s response to the Ebola crisis.
…Unless, of course, you consider the fact that this is all just politics. No one too close to the president should be seen as leading this effort in case it backfires. So, it makes sense to find someone expendable to do the job, whatever that job is.
Secondary to debating the existence of the actual position of “Ebola czar” is the president’s choice of Ron Klain to fill the slot. Mr. Klain is a former Chief of Staff to Vice Presidents Gore and Biden, and some of his less successful accomplishments include both his time as lead counsel for the Gore campaign during the 2000 Florida recount and his time as a key implementer of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In fact, Klain approved the $539 million in federal support of Solyndra, another failed government experiment in picking market winners and loser under the battle cry of “clean energy.” His involvement in the Solyndra affair should be enough to disqualify him from any position of trust in the federal government, but track records and results don’t matter to this White House. It is impossible not to question the president’s judgment in filling the role with a partisan operative who has no public health or medical experience.
As conservatives, accepting the premise of larger government is dangerous. Unfortunately, this is how the Republican Party has governed over the last decade. Instead of using the creation of a new bureaucratic post as an opportunity to advocate for core principles and offer an alternative idea–and not merely as an echo of the Democrat mantra of more government now–we quibble over who is best suited to sit in this particular throne in the pantheon of bureaucratic waste.
Republicans currently in office also curiously claim to know how to “do government” better and more efficiently. Wrong: the Democrats are pros at creating bureaucracy. On principle, the Republican Party has an obligation to advocate for smaller budgets, a reduced federal workforce, and fewer regulations and executive fiats. The key to Republican victories at the ballot box is to cede the big government ground to the left and return to the principles of small government that anchored the Founders’ thinking during the Revolution and Constitutional Convention.
It’s time to cast aside the czars and demand both accountability and action from the elected members of our government. They have been hiding behind bureaucratic puppets for far too long.