What's With This 'Czar' Talk?

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Following the appointment of Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute as President Bush's so-called "war czar" for Iraq and Afghanistan, Andrea Seabrook and Michele Norris explore the history of the term "czar" in American politics. Apparently, the term first surfaced in reference to Second Bank of the United States president Nicholas Biddle in 1832.


Douglas Lute's new title, assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan policy and implementation, whew, is quite a mouthful, especially for copy editors.


As often happens with the creation of a new administration post, that title was quickly morphed to the word czar.

NORRIS: It's a title with a long history in American politics. As far as we can tell, Nicholas Biddle emerged as the first U.S. czar in 1832. Czar Nicholas, as he was known, directed the second bank of the United States.

SEABROOK: And as Mr. Cordesman stated more recently, John Love became the first energy czar under President Nixon in 1973, followed in 1989 by President Reagan's drug czar, William Bennett. There's been lots of U.S. czars since then right up to food safety czar, David Atchison, who took office this month.

NORRIS: Well, it turns out that the government czars don't particularly appreciate the term.

Dr. EDWARD BLAKELY (Executive Director, National Recovery Management, New Orleans): It shouldn't be qualified. I like to call myself the teacher or the quarterback or the coach. Someone who helps direct things but doesn't…

Mr. RICHARD CLARKE (Former White House Counter-Terrorism Adviser): …infrastructure protection and counterterrorism. And the press, thinking that title was too long and not sexy enough, immediately turned it into terrorism czar.

Mr. DONALD RUMSFELD (Former Defense Secretary): And all the intelligence agencies and put them under a single intelligence czar. In my view, that would be doing the country a great disservice.

SEABROOK: Hurricane Katrina recovery czar Edward Blakely, former White House terrorism czar Richard Clarke and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

NORRIS: And as we mentioned, President Bush avoids using the term czar. He's called General Lute the full-time manager for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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