Tuesday, December 16, 2008

So Czarry

Mickey Kaus aptly observes in Slate that the government might as well appoint a Czar Czar to oversee the work of all the other ad hoc plenipotentiaries. Kaus links to Laura Meckler's balloon-deflating piece in The Wall Street Journal on a concept that seems to be about as useful as a Fabergé egg:

"There've been so many czars over last 50 years, and they've all been failures," said Paul Light, an expert on government at New York University. "Nobody takes them seriously anymore." He pointed to officials placed in charge of homeland security and drug policy.

The problem is that "czars" are meant to be all-powerful people who can rise above the problems that plague the federal agencies, he said, but in the end, they can't.

"We only create them because departments don't work or don't talk to each other," Mr. Light said, adding that creation of a White House post doesn't usually change that. "It's a symbolic gesture of the priority assigned to an issue, and I emphasize the word symbolic. When in doubt, create a czar."

The enterprising reporter traces the Czar concept only as far back as the Clinton Administration, but a few of us were born before that time, and I seem to remember that the first person to be called Czar was former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon, appointed Energy Czar by Richard Nixon in the early seventies. It's strangely relevant that Simon eventually authored a book called A Time for Truth. Indeed.

Czar is too haughty a title to ascribe to the Prince of Peace, humbly born into the world in a manger, but that doesn't satisfy the curmudgeonly Christoper Hitchens, who vents articulately as always in his article "'Tis the Season to be Incredulous." Christopher definitely feels crowded:

The core objection, which I restate every December at about this time, is that for almost a whole month, the United States—a country constitutionally based on a separation between church and state—turns itself into the cultural and commercial equivalent of a one-party state.

As in such dismal banana republics, the dreary, sinister thing is that the official propaganda is inescapable. You go to a train station or an airport, and the image and the music of the Dear Leader are everywhere. You go to a more private place, such as a doctor's office or a store or a restaurant, and the identical tinny, maddening, repetitive ululations are to be heard. So, unless you are fortunate, are the same cheap and mass-produced images and pictures, from snowmen to cribs to reindeer. It becomes more than usually odious to switch on the radio and the television, because certain officially determined "themes" have been programmed into the system. Most objectionable of all, the fanatics force your children to observe the Dear Leader's birthday, and so (this being the especial hallmark of the totalitarian state) you cannot bar your own private door to the hectoring, incessant noise, but must have it literally brought home to you by your offspring. Time that is supposed to be devoted to education is devoted instead to the celebration of mythical events. Originally Christian, this devotional set-aside can now be joined by any other sectarian group with a plausible claim—Hanukkah or Kwanzaa—to a holy day that occurs near enough to the pagan winter solstice.

His facts are all quite true, of course, though the reaction is his own (and the label "mythical events," even though I agree with him, seems an unnecessary gibe). I'm just glad they don't display Warner Sallman's Head of Christ that used to be so ubiquitous in my childhood, or poor Hitchens might have to be blindfolded for his own sanity. I agree with him that the concept of Heavenly Hosts is more inspirational than factual, but fortunately, I don't find myself in the same distress as he does, though I may come close when the holiday mélange played over my office intercom includes, of all things, Christmas Tree from Home Alone II, God help us, as though that were becoming a holiday treasure! If Hitchens wants to man the barricades on that one, I'm with him!

Perhaps Hitchens, whose mental acuteness I respect a great deal, can so condition himself that whenever he hears the Christmas Muzak, he can go into a trance and believe himself to be listening, instead, to the marvelous Christmas Concerto of Arcangelo Corelli. Exactly what Corelli had in mind when he wrote it I can't say, but it fits the Season of Advent, reminding the listener of someone hastening to a momentous event, quickened by anticipation of a meeting long desired.

© Michael Huggins, 2008. All rights reserved.

No comments: