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American Dream Betrayed

Media Trope: The Seven Dwarfs

"Republican voters are not especially enthusiastic about the potential Republican candidates for president this year, according to the latest polls, but history shows that is not unusual at this stage of the campaign," Jennifer Pinto wrote for CBS News' Political Hotsheet earlier this month.

Thank you, Jennifer. Because I'm already tired of seeing and hearing one of the political media's favorite tropes - that of the Seven Dwarfs.

As in:

"They assumed the stance of the Seven Dwarfs, not as a matter of physical but rather intellectual stature. Not one of the candidates for the GOP presidential nomination who debated Monday night rose to a point of seriousness in addressing the nation's grievous problems."

Please.

"Republicans . . . can take solace in the fact that, like the famous cycle of grief, the nomination process almost always starts this way, with kvetching," Michael D. Shear wrote for the New York Times as far back as April - without acknowledging the media's role in pushing the familiar narrative cycles.

"In 1988, a series of big-name Democrats each took a pass on the presidential campaign," Shear wrote, "leaving their party's White House ambitions in the hands of Senator Gary Hart of Colorado and a group of candidates quickly dubbed 'the seven dwarfs' for their seemingly obvious flaws."

Dubbed by whom?

Let's take a look - then and now.

Jerome Watson, Sun-Times, May 10, 1987: "In fact, with Hart's decision to withdraw, speculation turned almost immediately to Cuomo, who was heralded as a potential top-drawer candidate for months before he announced he would stay out. Cynics have dismissed the rest of the Democratic field as a bunch of political dwarfs .

Roger Simon, Tribune, June 28, 1987: "The seven Democratic candidates, better known as The Seven Dwarfs, gathered together here to 'roast' New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley."

Michael Sneed, Sun-Times, June 30, 1987: "Sneed snoopers are wondering if Sen. Ted Kennedy plans to join 'the Seven Dwarfs' on the Dem presidential campaign trail. The last time Ted lost a ton of weight was when he launched his White House bid in 1980. Hi ho! Is it off to White House work he goes?"

Jon Margolis, Tribune, July 1, 1987: "The Democratic presidential candidates, often derided as 'the Seven Dwarfs,' go on national television Wednesday night with party leaders hoping that they are not so dopey or grumpy that their audience becomes sleepy."

Tom Wicker, New York Times, July 4, 1987: "The strongest and saddest impression this viewer took away from the collective appearance of the Democratic Presidential candidates on national television was that Snow White was missing, while the Seven Dwarfs prattled on."

Sun-Times editorial, August 28, 1987: "We don't share a negative view of the Seven Dwarfs (an affectionate nickname adopted by the contenders themselves). We believe that among them are several top-flight individuals."

Robert Maynard, Sun-Times, September 1, 1987: "Since none of the present complement of active Democratic candidates - somebody called them 'the Seven Dwarfs' - appears to have had significant impact on the voters, the non-candidates continue to have some nostalgic appeal."

Kathy O'Malley and Hanke Gratteau, Tribune, September 18, 1987: "Sounds like one of the Seven Dwarfs competing for the Democratic presidential nomination is named 'Phony.' Sen. Joe Biden (D., Del.) built his reputation around being a great orator and now has to defend the cribbing from others' speeches. Will it do him in? It's certainly not helping. INC. hears locally it's been enough to cause Chicago's Daley clan-as in William Daley, Biden's political director-to start shopping for a new candidate. Or are those just friendly chats with Daley's old pals now working for Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis?"

Stephen Chapman, Tribune, September 20, 1987: "The Democratic presidential candidates, who have been uncharitably likened to the seven dwarfs, are apparently determined to embody the seven deadly sins instead. Gary Hart embraced lust. Now Joe Biden has taken on covetousness, and maybe sloth as well. Several of the contenders could probably qualify for pride or envy, qualities almost mandatory for ambitious politicians. Anyone for gluttony?"

Garry Wills, Sun-Times, September 25, 1987: "The Minnesota AFL-CIO was to be wooed by the whole lineup of Democratic hopefuls. But then the seven dwarfs began to act like 10 little Indians, dropping off."

Irv Kupcinet, Sun-Times, October 2, 1987: "With Gary Hart and Biden dropping out and Dukakis endangered, the Seven Dwarfs now may be known as 'The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.'"

Steve Neal, Sun-Times, October 16, 1987: "By any objective measure, he is the leading contender for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. The Rev. Jackson is far better known than any of the five dwarfs who are opposing him in the Democratic primaries. And, in contrast with his opponents, he's breaking new ground in discussing domestic issues."

Steve Neal, Sun-Times, January 10, 1988: "Democratic National Chairman Paul Kirk committed a blunder in suggesting that Hart shouldn't be running for the presidency. So, too, did the six Democratic dwarfs , who dropped in the polls with Hart's return."

Robert Novak, Sun-Times presidential candidate forum, January 24, 1988: "Gary Hart performed a tour de force on Friday night's debate by making the other six dwarfs look like they'd grown two inches each.

George Will, Sun-Times, February 14, 1988: "The candidates who are spared New Hampshire's guillotine will benefit from 'de-dwarfization,' the acquisition of stature by survival."

Carl Rowan, Sun-Times, February 17, 1988: "We snickered as we called Rep. Pat Schroeder of Colorado and the other Democratic candidates 'Snow White and the seven dwarfs.'

"'We got caught in the fixation of describing Vice President George Bush as a 'wimp'; Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole as a poison-tongued viper; television evangelist Pat Robertson as a faith healer who thinks God promised him the Oval Office, and Rep. Jack Kemp as an ex-jock who is trying to fumble his way into the political end zone.

"After watching the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries, I have concluded that elitists in my profession and cynics-at-large have slandered the 1988 crop of presidential candidates.

"Those who have a chance to win the nominations are among the best politicians this nation has produced, and they compare favorably with every president I've known in 40 years as a journalist."

Pat Buchanan, Sun-Times, February 21, 1988: "Even Brother [Fred] Barnes would have to concede the seven dwarfs are not prime horse flesh; if anything, they are the party's scrub stock."

Bob Greene, Sun-Times, March 1, 1988: "For months, the East Coast political pundits seemed to think it was clever to refer to the seven Democrats running for president as 'the seven dwarfs.' The takeoff, of course, was on the old Walt Disney movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and as soon as the political 'seven dwarfs' analogy appeared in print for the first time, you could not escape it.

"Of all the publications in America, though, the National Enquirer was the only one to do a little reporting and find something meaningful in the phrase.

"The Enquirer took a survey; the publication asked 200 people (100 men and 100 women) in five cities the following question:

"'Can you name more of Walt Disney's Seven Dwarfs or more of the seven Democratic candidates in the presidential race?' (This was before Bruce Babbitt dropped out, reducing the Democratic field to six.)

"What did the poll find? Here is the lead of the National Enquirer's story:

"'Nearly 60 percent of Americans quizzed by The Enquirer in a nationwide survey could identify more of Snow White's Seven Dwarfs than they could the seven Democratic candidates for president.'"

David Elsner, Tribune, February 23, 1994: The Democratic [11th congressional] field stands at seven, and right now each candidate appears more like one of the Seven Dwarfs than the Magnificent Seven."

Garry Wills, Sun-Times, July 5, 1999: "But a much more immediate task is to get rid of the seven dwarfs of the religious right and their three adjuncts. The dwarfs are Lamar Alexander, Gary Bauer, Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes, Alan Keyes, Dan Quayle and Bob Smith. The three adjuncts (a slight tinge lessr eligious) are Elizabeth Dole, John Kasich and John McCain."

Sun-Times headline, October 19, 2001: "Campaign Has Snow White, But Who Are Seven Dwarfs?"

Michael Sneed, Sun-Times, November 4, 2001: "GOP gubernatorial candidate Pat O'Malley, who was dubbed 'Dopey' in Sneed's 'Seven Dwarfs' contest . . . "

William Safire, New York Times, January 6, 2003: "The Seven Dwarfs: against all plans for the timing of the Restoration in 2008, the desperate party convention could turn to Hillary Clinton for salvation in 2004.

"Partisans on left and right would love that. And what a campaign Bush II vs. Clinton II would be. The Seven Dwarfs would have found their Snow White."

Stanley Fish, Sun-Times, July 24, 2003: "The single most important thing the party lacks is unity. And unity, it is said repeatedly, will be hard to come by in the next 10 months as the nine dwarfs (since at any event two of them are usually no-shows, the number is effectively seven ) use up their limited resources fighting each other in a spectacle that will only make the always on-course George Bush look more presidential."

Fran Eaton, Southtown Star, January 24, 2008: "This is embarrassing, but here we are, two weeks before we go to the polls, and there's no GOP candidate that's 'just right' for me.

"But maybe I'm as confused as Bill Clinton when it comes to fairy tales. Maybe it's not Goldilocks and the Three Bears I'm living; maybe it's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

-

Comments welcome.




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Posted on June 21, 2011


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