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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

John Bolton: the ultimate toxic boss

Bronwyn Lance Chester (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot

Whether John Bolton is given a thumbs up or down by the Senate in the coming weeks, his juicy nomination tussle has already been a victory for one group:

Peons who toil for tyrants.

Forget for a moment the merits of Bolton’s resume. Forget the seething Senate cauldron of party resentment. Let’s be real: Most Americans don’t give a hoot in Hades who our U.N. ambassador is. The reason many of us have followed the Bolton hearings with a sort of malicious satisfaction is because it’s great to finally see a bully boss get his.

You know the type: Purple fit-pitching, overbearing browbeaters who hold your paycheck and future in their balled-up fists. And remind you of that fact loudly and often.

The proliferation of toxic boss syndrome is the reason we cheered when Queen of Mean Leona Helmsley, famous for pink-slipping her staff, did an extended stay at the Big Barred Hotel.

Or when temperamental basketball coach Bobby Knight, renowned for throwing chairs, choking players and kicking his own son during a game, was fired.

Bolton’s outing as an arrogant jerk of a boss has provided vicarious revenge for anyone who’s suffered through the abuses of politically connected or protected superiors. It has particular resonance in our nation’s capital, where those who aren’t elected officials or political appointees are either minions or hangers-on. Washington’s mix of power, aspiration and sycophancy can make for some particularly hellish work experiences.

One of my former bosses there was a porn addict, whose predilection for photos of naked girls turned any trip to the office printer into an interesting experience.

Another took pride in paying married aides more than single ones for the same work, on the grounds that “they need it more.” (It’s Congress’ dirty little secret that politicians don’t have to abide by the employment laws they make for everyone else.) In a fit of pique, he once slammed a door on a staff assistant’s head.

But even for Washington, Bolton’s behavior was cringeworthy. Carl W. Ford Jr., former State Department intelligence chief, ex-Bolton underling and self-described “loyal Republican,” told senators that Bolton is a “serial abuser” of staff and called him a “quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy.”

Ford described how Bolton tried to bully, intimidate and fire an analyst after he refused to sign off on a speech asserting that Cuba had biological weapons, a conclusion unsupported by intelligence. Never mind that twisting supposedly policy-free intelligence is downright dangerous for America. It was Bolton’s way or the highway.

In another incident, a former government contractor testified that in 1994, Bolton threw a tape dispenser at her, made offensive comments about her weight, shouted threats, chased her down a Moscow hotel hallway, pounded on her door and “generally behave(d) like a madman.”

Hardly behavior conducive to high-level diplomacy.

Aubrey Daniels, a consultant who works to rid companies of “management by fear” told the Washington Post that if folks like Bolton were actually good bosses framed by disgruntled employees, there would be “an uprising that would say, ‘Wait a minute, this guy would never do that.’ “

Needless to say, the employee floodgates didn’t open in Bolton’s defense.

But since tales of his appalling behavior have surfaced, in a “we meant to do that” about-face worthy of Pee Wee Herman, the White House now contends it picked him precisely because of his abusive qualities.

Nice spin, guys. I’m not buying it.

Sure, the United Nations could stand some tweaking. But Bolton is unlikely to get far in his single-handed U.N. reform mission by throwing staplers at Kofi Annan. If the recognizable Bolton is confirmed and wants his pick of staff, he’ll have to go incognito: He’s now the poster child for tyrannical bosses.

Caption? “Only the obsequious need apply.”