by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Joe Biden’s science adviser, Eric Lander, has resigned. That news would not be making big waves if not for two things: Lander is a well-known biologist in a White House that says it stands for science, and Lander is leaving because he was a difficult boss. In his letter of resignation, Lander said that he “sought to push” himself and his colleagues by “challenging and criticizing.” According to the science office’s former general counsel, Rachel Wallace, some of Lander’s colleagues, particularly women, were “left in tears, traumatized, and feeling vulnerable and isolated.”
Lander isn’t the first difficult boss in White House history. Working for the president attracts Type A personalities and puts them into a pressure cooker environment. Almost every day, White House staff face high stress, long hours, and intense media scrutiny. And always looming in the background is the potential that your decisions and actions will end up in the history books. As a result, it is perhaps not surprising that some of the most famous White House aides in history have been less than kind to their staffs.
In Henry Kissinger’s first nine months as national security adviser in the Nixon White House, he was such an abusive boss that he drove away one-third of the staff. One of Kissinger’s primary victims was his assistant, Lawrence Eagleburger. At one point, according to Al Haig, Kissinger screamed at Eagleburger to get him a document. Eagleburger “stood up, turned deathly pale, swayed, and then crashed to the floor unconscious.” Eagleburger’s collapse didn’t faze Kissinger. Instead, “Kissinger stepped over his prostrate body and shouted, ‘Where is the paper?'” …
… When John Sununu was chief of staff to George H.W. Bush, he not only regularly yelled at his staff, he reveled in his tough-guy reputation. He believed that “if people don’t like you — and love your boss — then you’ve done your job.” …
… Republicans do not have a monopoly on screaming bosses. Far from it. Rahm Emanuel was a legendary screamer, particularly when he served as chief of staff in the Obama White House.