Lebisch: Rabbi! May I ask you a question?
Rabbi: Certainly, Lebisch!
Lebisch: Is there a proper blessing... for the Tsar?
Rabbi: A blessing for the Tsar? Of course! May God bless and keep the Tsar... far away from us!
Why is it that so many Americans are enamored of the title “czar” these days, and why are we the people apparently so willing to sit idly by while various areas of national turf become autocratic fiefdoms?
For several decades now, it has been fashionable to call someone who – usually during a crisis – demonstrates bold leadership minus the annoying details of complete accountability, a czar. We admire the go-for-it person who seizes the reins of a troubled entity and eventually makes the trains run on time. In the private sector, this is seen as effective leadership.
But in the political realm, there is something awkward, even unseemly, about referring to someone who is tasked with oversight of an area of public policy as the equivalent of the kind of ogre this country was founded to get away from in the first place. A czar was a king, an imperial autocrat. The title is a form of “Caesar,” and in Russia - where the role was perfected - it was “Tsar.” But the big bear wasn’t alone; one of the cousins used the appellation in Germany. He was called “Kaiser.” And of course, yet another cousin was called “King,” and he was the hereditary descendant of that wacky potentate Jefferson wrote those famous declarative words in 1776.
It took several centuries for Russia to accumulate 19 tsars. The land of the free and home of brave did it in far less time. Are we cool or what? When in Washington these days, order the Caesar salad. It’s the politically correct appetizer du jour.
Here’s a question, though: Is Czarism Worth The Price?
The very essence of putting czars in charge is to give one individual wide latitude and authority to presumably fix or manage a problem that has resisted correction through normal means. It’s all in the spirit of Kenan Thompson’s Saturday Night Live bit calling for someone to “Fix it!”
In its American form, czarism manifests itself with a proliferation of micro-czars, accountable to one macro-czar. Yep, you guessed it.
In promoting good government via czarism, President Obama is actually guilty of the very thing he recently accused George Bush and the rest of us for doing nearly eight years ago. During his Egypt speech about Islam, he talked about how we, in his opinion, generally overreacted to the attacks on Sept. 11th, leaving our “values” behind.
But isn’t that exactly what Mr. Obama’s administration is doing with the financial crisis? Aren’t the bailouts, stimulus packages, government takeovers of private enterprises, and the appointment of so many unelected and quite unaccountable (except to him) czars, a departure from what he likes to call “our fundamental values?”
He shouldn’t be able to have it both ways. The president can’t criticize America for “abandoning its principles” during a terrorism-driven crisis, only to turn around and abandon the nation’s core political values with his Caesar-salad-like approach to problem solving outside of the electoral or representative box. But frankly, he seems to be pulling it off, largely because he has the mainstream media as an ally for the moment.
We are witnessing the emergence of a new czarist America, not just with the appointment of so many “experts” who will watch the store, but from the very top of the ladder, or better: pyramid.
One of the best books written in the past couple of years is Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s now out in paperback with a new after-word by the author. Though this book has been predictably dismissed by the mainstream press, and mocked in the enlightened circles of the left, it is well-documented, powerfully written, and right on target when it comes to explaining where we are; and how we got here. (You can hear my interview with Jonah Goldberg here.)
Goldberg documents the history of the fascist movement and how some of its pernicious philosophy has found its way over time into the American bloodstream. Of course, the idea of fascist tendencies in America has long been part of the usual-suspect-criticism of the conservative political point of view. Former President Bush was repeatedly described by the left as a fascist – in spite of the ironic fact that many who painted him with that brush better resembled the epithet than did our 43rd president.
Most associate fascism with right-wing politics, but history tells us that current day liberalism, with its roots in the Progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, better resembles it. That is, if you really understand what fascism was and is: The Corporate State. Fascism is not when big corporations supposedly run the government, this being the common caricature promoted by the left in order to apply the term to conservatives: Fascism is the government running countries like they are big corporations.
Originally rooted in socialism (Benito Mussolini’s background), fascism is statism; state-run everything. Goldberg calls it “a religion of the state. It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people.”
He writes in Liberal Fascism: “It views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good. It takes responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and well being, and seeks to impose uniformity of thought and action, whether by force or through regulation and social pressure. Everything, including the economy and religion, must be aligned with its objectives.”
Now, many simply reject the idea that anything done by a liberal Democratic administration could be at all fascistic. They point to Hitler and the Holocaust, equating the idea of a fascist state with racism and genocide. This misses the point that Stalinist Russia was racist and genocidal as well, and that Mussolini’s Italy protected the Jews (until taken over by Germany), as did Franco’s Spain. The anti-Semitism of the Nazi’s did not reside in their form of government, but rather was rooted in the cultural fabric of the nation. Fascism – the state running everything – just gave wicked people a pathway to work out their depravity with little opposition.
Most Americans either don’t know, or simply choose to forget or ignore that in the 1920s and early 1930s, before Hitler’s Nazism took over in Germany, Mussolini was viewed by many in this country as a man of the future and someone to emulate. Columbia University was a “schoolhouse for budding Fascist ideologues.” After the famous humorist Will Rogers visited Italy in 1926, he said: “I’m pretty high on that bird. Dictator form of government is the greatest form of government: that is if you have the right Dictator.”
In 1933, Columbia Pictures released Mussolini Speaks, a documentary narrated by Lowell Thomas. Il Duce oversaw its production and it was a very effective propaganda piece for him in America. Theaters such as the RKO Palace in New York had sell out crowds. An ad in Variety told readers: “It Appeals to all RED BLOODED AMERICANS. It Might Be the ANSWER TO AMERICA’S NEEDS.” Mr. Thomas’ fawning narration describing images of Mussolini reached a peak when he said: “This is his supreme moment. He stands like a modern Caesar!”
In other words: a czar.