Politics Daily spoke with Stephen Hess, senior fellow emeritus at the Brookings Institution, about the controversy about so-called policy “czars” in the Obama White House. Hess is a veteran of the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations and a former adviser to Presidents Ford and Carter. He is the author of many books, most recently What Do We Do Now? A Workbook for the President-Elect (Brookings Institution Press, 2008).
Q: Are czars a real controversy or are they just people in inartfully named positions? Is it unchecked power?
A: If you deconstruct the so-called czars, you’ll see that a lot of them are simply misnamed by whoever chooses to do the naming. The news media, they like czars. If the Obama White House has played that game at all, they have done themselves a disservice. Obviously those who disagree with the administration have grabbed onto this.
Q: So who are the czars?
A: If you look at these positions, and I’ve gone through them one by one [Hess uses the Washington Post’s count of 30 current czars], you find that an awful lot of these jobs called “czars” are of a very low level of political input.
One for instance, Van Jones, the “green jobs czar,” was generously a third-echelon political appointment. He wasn’t a czar of anything, he didn’t run anything. He didn’t control anything. He was an adviser with a very small little piece of the action, reporting to a committee that in turn has no power. I was there when the committee was formed in 1969. To call him a czar was bizarre really. It’s the bizarre czar controversy.