The eloquently nasty James Wolcott made a sharp comment on the historical contribution to what he called “the Charlie Rose post-[State of the Union] all-star cud-chew” Monday night. Actually I would have generalized Wolcott’s point to most of the people I have seen on supposedly serious TV talk shows labeled as a “presidential historian.” Panelist Doris Kearns Goodwin, Wolcott wrote, has
become a major irritant with her . . . goody bag of presidential anecdotes that she dispenses to humanize everybody on the same glorious continuum, as if the crimes and calamities of Vietnam and Iraq were crucibles of character-building for our chief executives, the crowded backdrops to personal tragedy and greatness. (So many faraway nobodies have to die so that History can come alive.)
This is not a new irritant at all, of course, as Goodwin and a number of her pop history colleagues have been handing out these sugary snacks regularly ever since the great Founder Chic eruption of 2001. It would be nice if the middlebrow media and popular political history would work on their addiction to this kind of thing, but somehow I doubt we will be seeing Charlie Rose in intellectual rehab anytime soon.