Down with the czar
We’re a nation at war, and metaphor is our weapon.
Bob Erlandson, a former Sun colleague and a man so desperate for amusement that he reads this blog regularly, expresses a distaste for the widespread use of the word czar to describe public officials.*
We have had so many of them that it is sometimes hard to remember that the country was founded — somebody did talk to you in school about 1776 and all that, right? — in a revolt against monarchy and absolute power. So our fondness for calling various bureaucrats as czars seems puzzling.
Perhaps we balance it out by depriving these czars and czarinas of anything resembling real power or authority. The title czar is, in practical terms, an empty metaphor.
As such, it dovetails nicely with our taste for bogus metaphors in public life. Lyndon Johnson gave us a war on poverty, which we have, at best, fought to a draw. Perhaps he sought to distract us from the literal and highly unsatisfactory war in Indochina.
Since then, we have declared war on drugs. The victors in that combat seem to be mainly the people who get wages and benefits working as correctional officials for our ever-expanding prison population.
Our triumphs in wars on poverty and drugs are now succeeded by the war on terrorism. (Federal office-holders call it the “war on terror,” but terror is the effect; terrorism and terrorists are the causes.) It appears to be a little early for a declaration of victory there.
Not that I’m hostile to metaphor in principle, or to metaphors that inspire the populace. That is what rhetoric, at its best, accomplishes. But metaphor works best when grounded in reality.
* Feel free to indicate in a comment your preference for the form tsar.