Argentina Has A National Thought Secretary Now, But It Isn't The Weirdest Top-Tier Job Out There
There's a new government job in Argentina, and it's stirring some political controversy: the secretary for strategic co-ordination of national thought, a position newly-minted by President Cristina Kirchner. The person Kirchner's chosen for the job of Argentina's National Thought Secretary is Ricardo Forster, an Argentinian philosopher who unsuccessfully ran for political office in 2013. Forster is a prominent Kirchner supporter, which, combined with his new title, is fostering quite a lot of discord — Argentina's opposition conservative party is casting the move as an embrace of "old-school fascism."
Forster, for his part, told the AFP there's nothing at all nefarious about the position, saying that his job is to "build networks among academics and intellectuals who are thinking about joint projects in Latin America," rather than have anything to do with "uniformity of thought."
Even if true, it's not hard to see why there'd be some confusion, or a little hand-wringing, however. The title specifically chosen for the new secretaryship, invoking a concept as historically and politically loaded as "national thought," is one Kirchner and co should have seen coming.
Also, it's far from the first time that a global government or politician has crafted a strange new job for themselves. Here are three notable examples...
1. Kim Jong-Il, Eternal General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea
It's been over two years since the death of former North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, which has given way to the rule of his son, Kim Jong-un. Despite inheriting his father's seat of power, he didn't inherit the same job title. He's simply the First Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, because as the elder's title implies, the general secretaryship died with him.
And it's a family tradition, to boot. The reason Kim Jong-il had to settle for the general secretaryship was that his father, Kim Il-sung, was still the president-for-life despite having died in 1994. So while it's too early to say whether Kim Jong-un will maintain his grip on power throughout the course of his life, rest assured if he does, he'll be given some sort of eternal job. It's kind of like retiring a sports jersey number, only for dictators.
2. Cass Sunstein and the Czars of the United States
It's been an occasional criticism, especially in the highly-polarized political climate of President Obama's tenure in Washington, to condemn the practice of appointing czars, and the people who take the jobs. This was especially true as regards to Cass Sunstein's 2009 appointment as regulatory czar. It's a pretty easy attack to wage on at least one front — if you're willing to stoke a certain kind of xenophobic fervor, the term's monarchical foreign origins (Russian, Serbian and Bulgarian) can work to your favor.
But its adoption for the purposes of American political appointments isn't as new as you might think. In fact, it dates back nearly to the same time the last true czar of Russia was overthrown. Famed philanthropist and consultant Bernard Baruch was appointed by former-President Woodrow Wilson to head the War Industries Board in 1918, a job dubbed by some the industry czar.
This seems in some sense counterintuitive, which might be why some people perceive it as a new, fresh outrage of the Obama era. Why would people in the U.S. government start calling themselves czars right after the end of the Russian Revolution? Whatever the reason, however, they did, and the term has been with us ever since.
3. Kenneth Clarke, a British "Minister Without Portfolio"
In a way, Clarke is standing in for all of the ministers without portfolio out there, because there are a lot of them out there. It's a concept that many governments have need for, whether or not they quite term it that way. In simplest terms, it means that Clarke has the access that comes from the fancy job, but he doesn't have the real fancy job itself.
Thanks to a 2012 cabinet reshuffle, Clarke was bumped from being the Secretary of State for Justice to being a minister without portfolio, which means he's still able to attend all the cabinet meetings. He's technically a member, but now he lacks the myriad, specific responsibilities that come with a full-fledged cabinet role. It's a consolation prize as cabinet spots go, and it's done his career outlook no favors.
You have to say this much in Clarke's defense, however: It's not as though he's literally without portfolio.
See? Look at that folder, there could be anything in there! It must be said though, in light of how easily and fluidly government titles seem to change — Clarke's old Justice secretaryship was only established in 2007, itself the replacement for another abolished department — maybe a slightly less awkward moniker could've been figured out?