"To some extent, a chief of staff has to play bad cop to a president's good cop, and a disciplinarian is needed because people have to line up and do things they may otherwise not want to do," Reich said. "But the complaints I got was that he was unnecessarily brutal, demeaning to people."
Some aides describe a softer side. Bill Burton, a deputy press secretary who has worked with Emanuel for years, said Emanuel was routinely solicitous of aides' families. If Emanuel called and Burton said he was eating dinner with his wife, the chief of staff would hang up with a quick, "Go eat." He would refer to himself as "Uncle Rahmmy,'' Burton said.
"People who feel he rules by fear and intimidation completely misunderstand him," Burton said.
Emanuel also could make his team laugh. Chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra would come to staff meetings and give uniformly upbeat reports, administration aides said. One time Emanuel looked at him and said: "Whatever you're taking, I want some."
Emanuel had a hand in war strategy, political maneuvering, communications and economic policy. Bob Woodward wrote in his new book, "Obama's Wars," that Emanuel made a habit of calling up CIA Director Leon E. Panetta and asking about the lethal drone strikes aimed at Al Qaeda. "Who did we get today?" he would ask.