OFF THE GRID

Repeat After Me: 'The Czars Are Ruining America!'

Sep 14, 09 | 7:58 AM   byMichael Wolff
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There is a way Republicans talk that is different than how Democrats talk. Republicans, coming from business backgrounds—or very much admiring their contributors who do—talk in buzz words, short-hand, and marketing speak. They’re always on message. (True Mad Men are Republicans.) Democrats, on their long tangents, are academic wannabes who muck up and complicate everything.

Hence, the Democrats are always scrambling against a rhetoric that they can’t parry and don’t ever seem to have anticipated.

Now it’s the czars. The Republicans, in something of a tour de force of rhetoric, are making a baroque bureaucratic status a political hot button issue.

Czars are…well I cannot quite tell you what czars are and neither can the Republicans, who have made this very lack of definition part of their cause. They are, these “czars,” in effect, presidential advisers—in the Roosevelt brain trust tradition that Democrats so admire—with varying portfolios. They are the same supernumeraries who always run around governments. The only difference is that they got dubbed czars.

Glenn Beck, the Fox News host, latched onto the word and, in short order, made rhetorical mincemeat of Van Jones, a White House environmental adviser (“Green Jobs Czar”). Then he went after Cass Sunstein, slated to head up White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Yesterday, the GOP's Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison vented righteously in the Washington Post about the “unprecedented 32 czar posts” and the “unchecked authority” they might wield “against the American people.”

In other words, people no one has ever heard of, doing jobs that no one can define (indeed, in most instances they are hardly doing much of anything), are suddenly a major controversy in American political life.

These Republicans are damn good. They just pound the word—czar, czar, czar—into the national consciousness (“Why is the press silent on the 31 czars appointed by President Barack Obama?” asked a letter writer in today’s Montana Billings Gazette). There isn’t—as Madison Avenue has long taught us—any more powerful rhetorical device than repetition. It’s not the bigger the lie the more it becomes truth, it’s the more you utter the lie, or the spin, the more it becomes the conventional wisdom.

From the “public option” to the “death panels” to the issue of the birth certificate, just keep repeating the words and you give them dreadful meaning.

The Republicans are having fun and making mischief while the Democrats are caught flat-footed.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.
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