I wrote this piece for the Albany Times Union, and they published it yesterday!
Poor Hillary. Despite her outstanding qualifications, multiple polls show that a majority of Americans just plain don’t like her. But what’s not to like? I’ve seen and heard her multiple times, in person and on TV. In debates, she’s far more articulate and better informed than her rivals, and on the late night talk shows, she’s warm and funny. On Saturday Night Live, she was hilarious as a bartender bantering with Kate McKinnon’s “Hillary” character. Her close friends reportedly find her delightful.
So why don’t people like her? They come up with lots of reasons, but I believe the answer is simple: she’s just too damn smart. We don’t hear that explanation much, because most Americans don’t like to admit someone else is more intelligent than they are, especially if that someone is a woman. And the media pundits, especially those charged with filling the gaping maw of the 24/7 news cycle on TV and online don’t dare focus on this possibility, because it would mean acknowledging that some of us simply aren’t that bright. Highlighting the issue of intelligence might alienate the millions of viewers who prefer their news parceled out in easily digestible, endlessly repeated sound bites, and ratings might go down.
The KISS principle—keep it simple, stupid—applies to this campaign in spades. Coined in 1960 by an engineer at Lockheed, which manufactured spy planes for the Navy, the phrase originally applied to design but was broadened to the fields of marketing and sales, where it is also phrased as “Keep it simple and straightforward.” It doesn’t necessarily mean the target audience is stupid; rather, it suggests, that as Steve Jobs said when explaining the success of Apple products, “It all comes down to this: Let’s make it simple. Really simple.”
This is the crux of Hillary’s problem: she explains too much, delves into issues with such depth that she sometimes goes over the heads of people who aren’t policy wonks, thereby coming across as cold and intimidating, like that high school teacher or college professor who never cut you any slack and never gave you an A.
In contrast, consider the macho blowhards on the right and left wings of their parties. “Build the wall!” shouts Donald. “Down with Wall Street! Break up the banks!” rants Bernie. They hammer home the same talking points over and over again, painting themselves as anti-establishment outsiders, striking a strident but rousing chord with millions of disenchanted voters.
Trump hails from Queens and holds a B.A. from Wharton; Sanders grew up in Brooklyn and has a B.A. from the University of Chicago, where he’s said he was a mediocre student. They’re tough guys from the outer boroughs of New York City, and their political styles show it. Clinton, in contrast, is a high-achieving Ivy Leaguer, who got her B.A. from Wellesley and her law degree from Yale. Those exalted Ivies confer a status that can give you entrée into the corridors of power, but that very status can work against you, as I can attest. (I attended Radcliffe, Barnard and Columbia.)
When I was a child, being called a “brain” was an insult. That changed when I got to college. But out in the wide world, I learned once again to play down my intelligence. Despite the supposed advances of feminism, women who come across as too smart are often resented, even hated, especially if they’re bold and assertive. That’s a societal prejudice Hillary will have to fight hard to overcome.
Julie Lomoe is a novelist who lives in Wynantskill.
I’m pleased to say the Times Union didn’t change a word, other than adding the candidates’ last names. I took care to stay within their 600-word limit and did a careful editing job before sending it off, so this lends support to my claim that I’m my own best editor. I’ve already received lots of positive feedback.
I’m hoping the article will inspire new readers to discover my blog. If you’re one of them, welcome! Please subscribe so you’ll receive notification of new blog posts, and please explore this site for other topics of interest—especially my three published novels, which you can purchase from Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.
I’d love to read your comments! Let’s start a dialogue about this all-important election.