Once again, President Obama seems ready to feed the meme: this morning, someone within the White House chose to “leak” the news that Ron Klain, who served as Chief of Staff to Vice Presidents Gore and Biden, will be tasked with helping the government inform the public about the ongoing Ebola scare.
And yes, every single publication included the word “czar” in its headline.
As TIME told us way back in 2009, this is something of a media relations issue: titles for such positions tend to be unwieldy, so the “czar” meme is simply too easy to resist. It all started back in the early 20th Century:
“Woodrow Wilson appointed financier Bernard Baruch to head the War Industries Board — a position dubbed industry czar (this just one year after the final Russian czar, Nicholas II, was overthrown in the Russian Revolution).”
Politico compiled a list of such officials in the Obama administration before the TIME story ran.
But the word allows for easy mockery: a quick web or Twitter search will show that it’s often used in a derogatory sense despite the fact that every single president appoints a large number of officials to run various departments/initiatives — as does every agency CEO. (The President’s supporters have also used the opportunity to note that one of the main reasons such a “czar” is needed is that Congress did not confirm Obama’s nominee for the Surgeon General position; some pundits have attributed that failure to a single tweet in which the nominee criticized the NRA’s influence in American politics.)
Obama himself didn’t even use the word when discussing plans with reporters yesterday; here’s his quote:
“‘It may be appropriate for me to appoint an additional person’ to oversee efforts to contain Ebola.”
But words matter, and in communications they can be used as weapons. Like false rumors, nicknames and memes tend to stick around — and efforts to shoot them down are almost always lost causes. Obama eventually embraced the term “Obamacare” over “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” and he should probably give up and start calling all of his appointees “czars.”
As a certain character once reminded us, you can’t always get what you want:
We would scroll through all the insults, but we have other things to do…as does Klain himself, who was too compelled by the “fangate” story to comment last night.