Campaigns/Elections

"Will we ever stop electing Andrew Jackson?"

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The New Yorker's Jill Lepore has a great article tracing the unsavory history of one of publishing's lowest arts: the campaign biography. Not surprisingly, it's all Old Hickory's fault:

In 1824, [John] Eaton published a revised "Life of Jackson," founding a genre, the campaign biography. At its heart lies a single, telling anecdote. In 1781, when Jackson was fourteen and fighting in the American Revolution, he was captured. A British officer, whose boots had got muddy, ordered the boy to clean them: Jackson refused, and the officer beat him, badly, with a sword. All his life, he bore the scars. Andrew Jackson would not kneel before a tyrant.

[…]

The United States has had some very fine Presidents, and some not so fine. But their campaign biographies are much of a muchness. The worst of them read like an Election Edition Mad Libs, and even the best of them tell, with rare exception, the same Jacksonian story: scrappy maverick who splits rails and farms peanuts and shoots moose battles from the log cabin to the White House by dint of grit, smarts, stubbornness, and love of country…. Nixon learned how to be a good Vice-President by warming the bench during college football games. Palin forged bipartisan political alliances in step-aerobics class. Parties rise and fall. Wars begin and end. The world turns. But American campaign biographies still follow a script written nearly two centuries ago. East of piffle and west of hokum, the Boy from Hope always grows up to be the Man of the People. Will we ever stop electing Andrew Jackson?

Whole thing here. reason on the odious Andrew Jackson here and here.

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  1. I wish Andrew Jackson was on the ballot. Too bad he never edited the Harvard Law review.

  2. Andrew Jackson would keep the Cherokee problem in check.

    What Cherokee problem, you say?

    None, thanks to President Jackson.

  3. Oh, yeah, that’s right.

    Barack Obama was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review.

    I’d forgotten that Barack Obama was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review.

    Keep bringing up the fact the Barack Obama was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, SIV.

    Because the fact that Barack Obama was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review is the sort of thing that the vast majority of people would find pretty impressive.

    So, to sum up, Barack Obama was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, and both the left and the right can agree that this is a meaningful point to keep bringing up.

    Harvard Law.

    Law Review.

    First.

    Black President.

    Harvard Law Review.

  4. Because the fact that Barack Obama was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review is the sort of thing that the vast majority of people would find pretty impressive.

    Probably not as many as you think, joe. For a lot of people, an “Ivy League lawyer” is a creature to be alternately feared and avoided, not a person who is automatically commands respect and fealty.

  5. Ivy League lawyer

    What a loathsome creature, however, a perfect antihero.

  6. RC,

    I see you’ve got your finger on the pulse of America again.

    So. How’s that Palin cult working out?

  7. Actually, joe, I’m not sure many people know or care about what Obama did in law school. In fact, if people started really thinking about the fact that he’s a lawyer, that might work against him.

  8. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE2DC1631F935A35751C0A966958260

    “Until the 1970’s the editors were picked on the basis of grades, and the president of the Law Review was the student with the highest academic rank. Among these were Elliot L. Richardson, the former Attorney General, and Irwin Griswold, a dean of the Harvard Law School and Solicitor General under Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon.

    That system came under attack in the 1970’s and was replaced by a program in which about half the editors are chosen for their grades and the other half are chosen by fellow students after a special writing competition. The new system, disputed when it began, was meant to help insure that minority students became editors of The Law Review.”

    So which half was Barack part of? Was he chosen for his grades or after a “special writing competition”? Because if he isn’t super smart, I’m voting for the rocket science ticket.

  9. What? Obama is a lawyer? How did I miss that? (snark)

  10. More importantly, what does my question have to do with Andrew Jackson?

    I’m searching some quotes….

    “It is a damn poor mind indeed which can’t
    think of at least two ways to spell any word.”

    Barack can’t spell either?

    “I am one of those who do not believe that a
    national debt is a national blessing, but
    rather a curse to a republic; inasmuch as it
    is calculated to raise around the
    administration a moneyed aristocracy
    dangerous to the liberties of the country.”

    “The Bible is the rock on which our Republic rests.”

    “The wisdom of man never yet contrived a
    system of taxation that would operate
    with perfect equality.”

    Found some good quotes, but nothing on the Ivy League Law Review.

  11. I’ve always wondered how my own Presidential biography would be written. I always figured it would read a bit like a biography on Willie Loman. Except a little more down tempo.

  12. Pro Libertate | October 22, 2008, 4:11pm | #
    Actually, joe, I’m not sure many people know or care about what Obama did in law school. In fact, if people started really thinking about the fact that he’s a lawyer, that might work against him.

    Everybody loves lawyers that is why they are voting for Obama/Biden. Who loves war heroes and hot chick sports journalists?

  13. When you put it that way, SIV, I almost feel that I should be voting for McCain/Palin and not for a children’s elephant book.

    Many candidates are lawyers, but the successful ones don’t make a point of rubbing the public’s nose in it. Ask John Edwards why bragging about being a lawyer is a bad idea.

  14. Toxic was born in rural south west Missouri. He learned the hard way the value of a hard days work, as he kept getting fired because he didn’t like busing dishes, degreasing grills, and calling people to try to sell them AOL branded long distance.

    So he went to college cause it beat getting a job. Then he learned that an English bachelors really was useless, so he went to law school. Then he finally got a real job.

    Doesn’t have that ring to it, you know? I did chop some firewood once though.

  15. Ask John Edwards why bragging about being a lawyer is a bad idea.

    Fuck that, I know it’s a bad idea because John Edwards did it.

  16. Funny that everyone is talking about Obama here, my first impression upon reading this article was that it was implicitly questioning the relevance of John McCain’s war hero narrative.

  17. John who?

  18. RC,

    I see you’ve got your finger on the pulse of America again.

    As an Ivy League Lawyer myself, joe, I think I have a better idea than you how we are generally perceived.

    So. How’s that Palin cult working out?

    You tell me. The real obsessives about Sarah Palin seem to be mostly those with Sarah Derangement Syndrome.

    I’m pretty much agnostic about her, myself; my comments around here have been mostly to mock and vilify though spreading the most odious and obviously stupid rumors and slanders.

    So which half was Barack part of? Was he chosen for his grades or after a “special writing competition”?

    Probably grades. He graduated at the very top of his class (higher than I did).

  19. I resent that people are smearing Barack Obama by asociating him with the Harvard Law Review. The Harvard Law Review may have worked in the same small office with him for 3 years, like I did, but did not receive millions of dollars from Barack or babysit his kids.

    Let’s try to keep this debate honest and civil, except for when we bomb the Pentagon.

  20. Joe, are you off your meds again? No one (but SIV, apparently) gives a fuck about the Harvard Law Review thing.

    As a recovering lawyer, I can say with some authority that law school journals are one of the purest examples of apple polishing in existence. Students “edit” them to get a resume enhancer, professors write for them to get and keep tenure, and no one on Earth actually reads them.

    As for the topic of this thread, no one on Earth reads candidate autobiographies, either, other than journalists looking for a way to avoid having to practice actual journalism. They are an amusing by-product of presidential campaigns, however.

  21. This seems like an odd year for this article when you consider that McCain’s story is the closest we’ve had in a long time to the Andrew Jackson one.

  22. I realized that something was wrong with the legal profession when I discovered that law reviews weren’t peer reviewed. Of course, since 85% of legal scholarship is results-oriented bullshit, that’s not much of a surprise.

    I say this, incidentally, as a former law review editor. And this isn’t a comment on Obama–he did what he was supposed to do as a law student.

  23. Pro Lib are you crazy? Would you like to be sued for peer reviewing someone’s law review? Refer to your Shakespeare, “Kill all the lawyers!”

  24. What’s funny about law reviews is how other academics will occasionally use them to publish stuff that couldn’t possibly get published in journals in their actual discipline. I don’t know how much that happens these days, with all of the alternative publication options (esp. on the web), but I remember a couple of doozies back in the 90s.

  25. I kinda threadjacked the shit out of this one.

    The point of my first comment was to imply that McCain has that classic Jacksonian campaign bio but everybody says vote for Obama because he is so smart he was editor of the Harvard Law Review. Vote for the academic star, maybe he will work out great like Woodrow Wilson.

  26. The point of my first comment was to imply that McCain has that classic Jacksonian campaign bio but everybody says vote for Obama because he is so smart he was editor of the Harvard Law Review. Vote for the academic star, maybe he will work out great like Woodrow Wilson.

    I think the Harvard Law Review argument was more a factor in the primaries than now. The Obama campaign has been working feverishly in the last couple of weeks to position him as a “regular guy”. I know, because I live in Virginia and have been bombarded with the ads every time I turn on the TV expecting to see a football game.

    Currently, Obama’s ads are trying to make you believe that he was just a regular little schoolkid with a struggling single mother, neglecting to mention that he went to the most exclusive prep school in Hawaii, and that his struggling single mother deposited him with his middle-class grandparents while she jetted around E. Asia. It seems he’d rather that you didn’t notice the Columbia/Harvard thing. None of which reflects badly on Obama, other than being somewhat dishonest.

  27. I’m not in a Swing State so all I get is the McCain=Bush attack ads on the network TV national buy.

  28. Seeing as we now have a nationalized banking system to slay, I’d say the relevant question is when are we going to elect another fucking Andrew Jackson.

  29. David Rollins beat me to it. I was going to say why all the Jackson bashing on a libertarian page when his defeating the central bank is one of the most libertarian presidential acts in American history?

  30. RC Dean sez As an Ivy League Lawyer myself, joe, I think I have a better idea than you how we are generally perceived.

    He’s right joe, my opinion of him just dropped significantly.

    And joe, the shame of being seduced by lone whackjob. You should go sit in the corner wearing the dunce cap.

  31. I will now start eating your souls, with red fava beans and nice chianti.

    *yes, I know Hannibal Lecter was a psychiatrist. I’m suggesting that ivy league lawyers are even worse. Any present company excepted, of course*

  32. I hate Andrew Jackson. I always get pissed off when his presidency is idealized by anyone. I have my reasons, and they involve why a large part of my family is from Oklahoma.

  33. The “odious” Andrew Jackson? My goodness, he’s only the most libertarian prez we’ve ever had! Imperfect and personally nutty, yes …

  34. “The United States has had some very fine Presidents”

    ummm . . . no we have not.

  35. economist,

    If your ancestors hid better you could have been from North Carolina!

    FWIW, and admittedly not much, Old Hickory was out of office by the Trail of Tears.

  36. SIV,
    Yeah, thanks for the advice. It’s always fun to have one’s property seized and be forced to move to some godforsaken hellhole. And while “Old Hickory” may have been out of office by the Trail of Tears, he all but set up the events leading up to it.

    Full Disclosure: I have never personally lived in Oklahoma. My grandparents left the state back in the 40s.

  37. Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!

  38. It’s always fun to have one’s property seized and be forced to move to some godforsaken hellhole.

    Not making any excuses, but, having been there, the eastern half/two thirds of Oklahoma is actually pretty nice country.

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