Jewish World Review June 9, 2003 / 11 Iyar, 5763

Mark Bowden

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One really weird candidate | One of the truly great things about American politics is that it gives us all a chance every four years to pry deeply into the lives of prominent, perfectly respectable citizens, and to come up with proof that they are, in fact, very strange. My mother has an aphorism for this, which I have found to be true. She says, "Everybody is really weird, once you get to know them."

Bob Graham, the three-term U.S. senator from Florida and former two-term governor of that state, now a candidate for president, has for a quarter of a century kept a meticulous diary of his busy days.

Now, you might say, there's nothing strange about that. Many people keep diaries. I consider myself to be not at all strange, and yet I have a neat stack of "Daily Minders" or "Executive Planners" going back to 1979, which come in very handy if the IRS comes calling or to remind you of the name of that person you had lunch with in Chicago four years ago and promised to get back in touch with promptly. I jot down flight numbers, luncheon dates, appointments, important birthdays, etc., and occasionally even note when I saw a certain movie or finished a particular book or article.

A nice woman on a train a few weeks ago suggested I wean myself from this antiquated work method, and she let me try her nifty handheld electronic day-minder, which could also send and receive e-mail. I decided that, for now, I'd prefer to keep adding my worn paper calendars to the growing stack. There's something comforting and familiar about it that counters the otherwise disturbing and relentless march of time.

So, reading that Graham has thousands of 3-by-5, color-coded, spiral-bound notebooks ... wait a minute. Thousands? Color-coded?

Graham, it seems, keeps track of his daily activities virtually minute by minute, sometimes timing things down to the hundredths of a second. He notes what time he gets up in the morning, what clothing he puts on, what he eats for breakfast, whom he meets with, what they discuss, what he reads, what he watched on TV, etc.

He notes little of the real content of his days, his conversations, his thoughts, feelings, etc., so his are not diaries in the traditional self-confessional style. Graham's diaries appear to be all business, a busy man who likes to document his busy-ness. According to an article about the habit by Carl Hulse in the New York Times, there are now more than 4,000 of them, filed away in manila envelopes.

Graham is a moderately liberal Democrat who usually votes with his party's leadership on major issues. He has that mandatory glowing, burnt-sienna-sun-god look of the prosperous Florida Anglo, topped with a head of shiny white hair. Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he argued that the United States should have focused its war effort on routing al-Qaida and related terrorist groups before going after Saddam Hussein. He is not seen as an ideologue but as a pragmatic legislator who will consider changing his mind and his vote with shifting circumstances. He is trailing his opponents badly and is considered a very long shot for the nomination next year. But given this calendar fetish of his, maybe he deserves a second look.

Some members of Graham's campaign staff are apparently worried that their candidate's penchant for these meticulous jottings might be seen as, G-d forbid, an eccentricity! America may be ready for a lot of things in public life, but eccentrics in the White House? Teddy Roosevelt slipped in, but only because he inherited the place from a slain President William McKinley. Some might regard John F. Kennedy's penchant for extramarital sex an eccentricity, but he had the good sense to keep it hidden.

Anyone who has made note of what he eats for breakfast every day for 25 years may be peculiar - "February 10, 2001 ... 8:50-9:15 kitchen - brew coffee - eat breakfast (Raisin Bran cereal)" - but he's also careful. Remember the problems faced by the last Democratic president? Just imagine how helpful it would have been for a besieged President Bill Clinton to be able to say, with authority, exactly where he was, with whom, and for how long, in the wee hours on a given night in Arkansas, say, 20 years ago. OK, maybe in his case it wouldn't have been so helpful.

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Mark Bowden is a columnist for the The Philadelphia Inquirer. Comment by clicking here.


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