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?