So it is to be a czar of all the intelligence services. As I predicted in last week's column, all the president's men have engulfed the remaining opposition to the intelligence reform bill and (as I write on Tuesday) the House of Representatives will imminently pass the bill with strong bipartisan support. Like its namesake, the czar of all the Russias, our new czar is likely to begin what will become a very mixed record. (Note: Beware of large bipartisan majorities. They usually form around either trivial issues or headline-driven, rushed proposals.)
Perhaps our first czar will be up to the standards of Russia's first czar, Ivan the Terrible. Ivan, a mere lad of 17 on being crowned, quickly got married, after choosing a bride through a national virgin competition, and then went on to conquer the Muslim Tartars -- obliterating their cultural heritage in the process.
He went on to conquer and annex Astrakhan, Kazan and Siberia. He set up the first secret police, the Oprichniki, and spent most of his career killing and torturing opponents -- real and imagined. He threw live animals to their death off his castle tower -- for the sheer pleasure of seeing the poor beasts crash to the ground and die. Needless to say he is a great national hero -- and Stalin's favorite czar.
At the other end of the czar spectrum was poor little Nicholas the Second, the last czar of all the Russias. He was weak and ineffective, stubbornly claiming absolute power by divine right, even as he was dominated by his uncles and intimidated by his czarina, Alexandra.
While unable to manage his country effectively, his hereditary powers permitted him to block effective management by his prime minister and other men who, left to their own authority, might well have been able to lead Russia successfully into the twentieth century. Finally, Nicholas was overthrown by Lenin and shot along with his wife and all their children.
While these are two models for our new czar, I suppose the supporters of the intelligence reform bill will hope for Peter the Great as the model -- enlightened, effective and humane (by the standards of his time and place.)
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.