Let's face it: Running for president is like submitting to an endless psychotherapy session.

Everyone and his brother-in-law gets to put you on the couch and blather on about what makes you tick.

Every embarrassing thing you ever did comes trickling out into the press.

Bill Clinton's Gennifer Flowers period and non-inhaling of marijuana. George Bush's DWI arrest and unexplained break from National Guard service. Al Gore's alpha-male ambitions and earth-tones wardrobe makeover. Gary Hart's spooky changing of his name and age. Thomas Jefferson and that Sally Hemmings thing.

Why, you wonder, do people put themselves through this sort of hazing, other than, say, an insatiable lust for power?

"Anyone who is going to run for president has to be weird," says Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia.

The press, of course, has a leading role in this Freudian frisking. Small battalions of reporters are dispatched to talk to friends, enemies, classmates, teachers, ex-lovers and others who might supply the requisite insight or dirt. That is the price of admission.

The goal of these journalistic excavations is to answer the question: Who is this guy who thinks he's good enough to lead the country? Joe Lieberman made a point of saying "I will always know who I am," but now everyone else has to find out.

We thought of this yesterday while reading pieces about the Democratic contenders that dissect some of their quirky behavior. This, we hasten to add, is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. If you want to know about John Kerry's behavior in bars, stay tuned.

Bob Graham, the Florida senator who looks like he's about to jump into the '04 race, gets the treatment from Miami Herald columnist Jim DeFede:

"There is definitely something strange and a little bit disturbing about Bob Graham's fetish for writing the most mundane and trivial details of his day in a series of brightly colored 3x5-inch spiral-bound notebooks.

"He jots down the exact time he dresses, eats breakfast and goes to the bathroom. He memorializes the name of every person he's ever shaken hands with or spoken to on the telephone. He keeps a record of the room number of every hotel he's ever stayed in.

"The notebooks are color-coded by seasons of the year -- red for summer, yellow for fall, blue for winter and green for spring. And once one is filled, it is carefully placed in an envelope and filed away.

"The senior senator from Florida has filled thousands of these notebooks over the last 25 years. In his home state, reporters have made passing reference to these monuments to minutia in stories almost from the beginning. The tone of those stories has always been favorable, describing his fixation as a harmless eccentricity of a unique man.

"In July 2000, however, Time magazine wrote about Graham's 'eccentricity,' excerpting a portion of the notebooks from the day his daughter had a baby.

"12:50: Cissy thinks she's going into labor

"1:15: Cissy preparing to leave for Baptist Hospital

"1:20-1:30: MLTH [Miami Lakes Town House]. Bedroom. Bathroom. Dress in blue slacks

"1:30-1:45: Rewind Ace Ventura

"2:00: Adele [Graham's wife] ready to go. Drive to Baptist Hospital

"2:15: Stop at [video store] to return Ace Ventura

"The story turned Graham into a national joke with Jay Leno even mocking the little-known senator during his monologue a few nights later on The Tonight Show. The cruelest cut of all for Graham was that the Time article almost certainly derailed any chance he had of becoming Al Gore's running mate.

"Two and a half years later, Graham appears set on running for president and if he does, the notebooks will once again become a focal point for every political writer measuring Graham's chances for success."


Maybe Graham should just bore the press to death by releasing all the diaries.

Boston Globe columnist Brian McGrory reflects on his relationship with the Massachusetts senator in the race:

"The John Kerry I know is forever on the cusp of greatness, frustratedly wondering why the spotlight always shines on somebody else.

"The John Kerry I know lives in a state of distraction -- concerned about staff, fretting about tomorrow's schedule, privately ruing how unworthy rivals are pulling ahead.

"He is at once appealing and maddening. He gives insightful speeches questioning Democratic dogma like affirmative action and teacher tenure, then fails to build a foundation for legislative change. He enjoys good restaurants, but once there rarely talks about anything but his career. He can seem oddly normal, but is compelled to constantly reinvent himself.

"He is dogged to an unusual degree by two questions: Who is he, and why? Indeed, his friends have spent more than a little time lately talking about Kerry as 'a changed man' -- the implication being that he's not the undisciplined opportunist that so many critics believe him to be. He is committed to this race until the end, they say. He is doing the pick and shovel work for which he has never been known. He is focused like never before.

"I'm suspicious. He's nearly 60 years old, and at that age, at any adult age, you are who you are, no? .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Years ago, Kerry regarded himself as above the needs of rank-and-file state activists and mayors. He had, for lack of a better description, a maturity problem. He would regularly dispatch trusted friends to inform young women in bars, 'The The senator would like to meet you.' He would think nothing of whining and shouting at reporters if he didn't like what they were about to write.

"Last week, in contrast, he talked about his failed marriage and his current one, about the perspective that comes with the experience of age."


How long before the tabloids start paying women for their stories?

The American Prowler says the administration is mad at one outspoken conservative:

"The White House political and congressional liaison staff is livid with Club for Growth founder Stephen Moore for going public with comments that he may seek a primary opponent against Arizona Sen. John McCain.

"Consistent with points he made in an interview published in the Nov./Dec. 2002 American Spectator, Moore sent out a fundraising letter saying he could raise a million dollars for a run against McCain. The Wall Street Journal recently repeated that Moore may be recruiting Rep. Jeff Flake for the task.

"'McCain is already pissed off with us, now he has a group like Moore's agitating him further. He'll think we're behind it,' says a White House staffer who monitors Capitol Hill.

"That's doubtful. Given the way the White House has treated Moore of late, it should consider itself lucky Moore isn't talking about running someone against Bush next time around.

"Indeed, the White House has every reason to be grateful to Moore, whose Club for Growth was key to helping elect pro-tax cut, conservative House and Senate members (John Sununu, Jr., was one of Moore's big winners) in the last election cycle. Instead, it put off his call for a more conservative, pro-tax-cut Treasury Secretary in order to install another moderate, country club Republican in Paul O'Neill's place.

"Besides, the White House has so badly botched the McCain relationship, that anything anyone else did wouldn't even show up on the radar."


What's happened on the Hill since Congress returned? Just more gridlock, says the New York Times:

"Republicans won control of the Senate on Nov. 5, but Democrats are not stepping aside easily.

"What has traditionally been a routine transition of power has turned into a contentious battle as frustrated Republicans accused Democrats today of trying to block the new majority and stall its agenda.

"'It is tantamount to an attempted coup right here on the floor of the Senate,' said Senator Rick Santorum, Republican of Pennsylvania, as the two parties remained unable to reach a deal on reorganization after Republicans won a majority of 51 in last fall's elections. Without the agreements, Democrats remain in charge of committees.

"Republican leaders said the impasse was disenfranchising the voters of 11 states that sent new senators to Washington since they could not yet be seated on any of the panels where most of the business is done."


Wake us when they figure it out.

The Wall Street Journal discovers that the battle over Alaskan oil is far from over:

"Senate Republican leaders are considering using a filibuster-proof budget maneuver to renew their push to allow drilling for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

"Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, the new chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, said he believes the controversial Arctic-refuge provision will be included as part of this year's budget-reconciliation process. The committee, working in collaboration with the White House and the Senate Budget Committee, will put together a revenue-raising package that could result in a floor vote on the Arctic refuge as early as March or April."

While the pro- and anti- sides continue their political warfare, few have noticed a change on the abortion front, says the Los Angeles Times:

"Abortion rates are at their lowest level since 1974, according to a new U.S. survey, continuing a 20-year decline that some experts attribute to increased contraceptive use, and more recently, the availability of more contraceptive options, such as the morning-after pill.

"A total of 1.31 million abortions were performed in the United States in the year 2000, the study found--a rate of 21.3 abortions per 1,000 women aged between 15 and 44. This number is significantly reduced from the country's peak abortion rate in 1980 and 1981 of 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women.

"The study, published in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, was greeted as good news by reproductive health specialists and groups that both support and oppose abortion rights."


There's a certain rerun quality to the showdown with Iraq, as the Boston Globe reports:

"President Bush expressed increasing impatience yesterday with Iraq over UN demands to disarm, even as key allies and the United Nations chief said that weapons inspectors need more time.

"'Time is running out on Saddam Hussein,' Bush said in brief remarks before meeting with Poland's president. 'He must disarm. I'm sick and tired of games and deception. And that's my view of timetables.'

"But UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said yesterday that further UN debate should precede any military action in Iraq."


What day will the war start? The Philadelphia Inquirer has this update:

"Even as U.S. troops and armor pour into the Persian Gulf, President Bush faces rising pressures on multiple fronts to slow down the momentum toward war.

"As recently as a few weeks ago, senior Bush administration officials were suggesting that a U.S. invasion to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein might begin soon after a pivotal report from U.N. weapons inspectors Jan. 27.

"Now, the target date appears to have slipped to late February or early March at the soonest, U.S. officials and analysts say.

"In the latest sign of a possible delay, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is said to be leaning against a plan to begin a war with bombing before all necessary U.S. ground forces are assembled in the region. Those forces are not expected to be in place before mid-February."


We hope Saddam adjusts his calendar accordingly.

Andrew Sullivan is losing patience with the U.N. -- and with Bush:

"No surprise that Hans Blix wants more time; that January 27 is now seen as the 'beginning' of the arms inspection; or that other countries are quite happy to see the process drawn out indefinitely. This was always the danger of the U.N. route. The administration, as is its wont, seems to be saying almost nothing about its plans, which worries people like me. We can only hope that its a way to out-psyche Saddam. But it's beginning to look like Saddam is out-psyching Bush.

"The question will therefore soon arise: can we wait until the autumn? My own view is that this would be a disaster. There is absolutely no guarantee that any weapons of mass destruction will be found by Blix's merry men by then; and the long summer and fall will be a golden opportunity for other rogue states to take advantage of the U.S.'s preoccupation in the Gulf. Those who oppose the war now will oppose it then. And there will be further opportunities for terrorist attacks on the West. Moreover, nothing would galvanize our enemies more than to see how timorous Washington is when dealing with a murderous dictator who has violated the terms of the 1991 truce and continues to thumb his nose at the world.

"Our perceived weakness toward Saddam has already emboldened the North Koreans (whom it appears we are now willing to appease as well). It will embolden others -- from the meddlesome French to the American left. What Bush is in danger of drifting into is Clintonism -- dragged along by events, rather than determining them, acquiescing in evil rather than confronting it, and coming ever so close to appearing easily knocked off course."


Our observation about all the good press that Bill Frist has been getting obviously didn't include this Doug Ireland piece in the L.A. Weekly:

"Frist was born rich, and got richer -- thanks to massive criminal fraud by the family business. The basis of the Frist family fortune is HCA Inc. (Hospital Corporation of America), the largest for-profit hospital chain in the country, which was founded by Frist's father and brother. And, just as Karl Rove was engineering the scuttling of Trent Lott and the elevation of Frist, the Bush Justice Department suddenly ended a near-decadelong federal investigation into how HCA for years had defrauded Medicaid, Medicare and Tricare (the federal program that covers the military and their families), giving the greedy health-care behemoth's executives a sweetheart settlement that kept them out of the can. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Frist's pandering to the lobbyists of the voracious health-care industry knows no bounds. 'Frist isn't the senator from Tennessee -- he's the senator from thestate of Health Care Industry Influence -- he's gotten more than $2 million from the health-care sector, giving him the dubious distinction of raising more cash from health-care interests than 98 percent of his colleagues,' says Nick Nyhart, executive director of Public Campaign. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Frist has, of course, personally raked it in from the interested industries, gobbling up $123,750 in campaign cash from the HMOs and $265,023 from the pharmaceutical industry. Frist also took $130,204 from the food-processing industry -- and then helped kill a bill putting teeth into the USDA's authority to crack down on processing plants that violate federal standards for bacterial and viral infection of meat and poultry."


National Review's David Frum is having a grand old time promoting his book about his stint as a Bush speechwriter:

"Many of the early notices of 'The Right Man' have wondered whether the book will irk the White House. It's certainly true that this White House is a very tight-lipped shop. It's probably the first White House in history that believes in hushing up not just its failures--but its successes. I made a point of letting the White House know early that I was working on this book. I delivered copies to them before the release date so they would not be taken by surprise by anything in it. And of course I honored the president's confidences.

"Even so, it's very possible that the White House will simply disapprove of the book on principle. But I have to wonder in my turn: Is a president really well served by being wrapped in mystery? .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"My favorite [review] so far is an outburst of sputtering fury from Michiko Kakutani: who managed in just 750 words to describe the book as 'hectoring,' 'bellicose,' 'kneejerk,' and guilty of 'revel[ing] in .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. American power.' Guilty on the last point anyway. And the next time somebody asks me about the White House's displeasure with me, I'll be able to tell them that it is nothing compared to the dose of chili powder I seem to have shaken into the soup of those who hate this president."


Hey, White House displeasure helps sell books.