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The VICE Guide to the 2016 Election

Hillary Clinton Needs to Admit the Truth: She's Lame

Awkwardly joking around with Zach Galifianakis won't make her seem cool—the secret to winning the millennial vote is to embrace the fact that she's very, very corny.

by Jill Filipovic
27 September 2016, 12:00am

Some happy millennial-looking people at a Glamour/Facebook event at the Democratic National Convention. Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Glamour

Young people should love Hillary Clinton. Really! Earlier this year, a USA Today/Rock the Vote poll of under-35s found that they wanted America to transition to clean energy; so does Clinton. In that poll, 82 percent of millennials wanted background checks for all gun sales; Clinton wants more background checks too. Clinton has promised to give tons of people debt-free college and let student debtors refinance their loans. And if all that isn't enough, she showed up on Broad City. What more could we want?

The answer from millennials is obviously "something else." Though she's winning the youth vote—41 percent of voters under 30 support her versus 23 percent for Donald Trump, according to the latest Reuters numbers—her numbers pale in comparison to Barack Obama, who secured over 60 percent of the under-30 vote in 2008. The issue isn't her opponent, as Trump is despised by young people across the political spectrum; they simply aren't ready for Hillary either, with substantial chunks supporting Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Jill Stein.

That's why Clinton should take the advice of teen magazines everywhere: Be herself. That means keeping the policy but dropping the attempts to be cool. "Herself" is boring, nerdy, diligent, and kind of lame. She should embrace it.

This might seem contradictory, but Clinton has been trying to seem hip and cool for months, and it mostly hasn't worked. Her recent Between Two Ferns interview was stilted and weird, especially compared to Zach Galifianakis's interview with Obama, who clearly loves comedic chops-busting where Clinton merely tolerates it. The Broad City episode was funnier, but mostly because there was a pegging reference involved. At worst, Clinton's youth-outreach efforts have come off as naked pandering, like her op-ed for capital-M millennial outfit Mic, titled, no joke, "Here's What Millennials Have Taught Me."

More than being told how great they are, however, millennials love authenticity. Today's version of "authentic" may be carefully posed and filtered, but one's carefully curated version of themselves at least in theory projects out aspects of one's inner self. (You are the kind of person who is close to nature and enjoys the physical exertion of a hike; you are the kind of person who is indulgent and pleasure-focused and eats a different-colored ice cream cone every day; you are very sophisticated, which is why your entire Instagram feed is a single color palette.)

She should stop trying to appeal to the kids by being cool, and instead be exactly who she is: A thoroughly un-hip middle-aged woman who is probably smarter than you and definitely smarter than her opponent.

This Hillary Clinton can do. She has been in the public eye for so much of her life, and shape-shifted to meet ever-changing expectations for women in politics, that she may not even know who she really is anymore. It doesn't matter. There's one through-line of her life she can double down on: She's a nerd. She should stop trying to appeal to the kids by being cool, and instead be exactly who she is: A thoroughly un-hip middle-aged woman who is probably smarter than you and definitely smarter than her opponent. She will think seriously about every decision she makes, who will make sure her solutions are workable rather than just exciting, and who will dig in and get stuff done. She is, at heart, Lisa Simpson. You wouldn't necessarily put Lisa on a T-shirt, but you'd definitely put her in the Oval Office before you'd elect Bart.

Wonky Hillary, of course, runs the risk of playing into another pop-culture stereotype, that of Tracy Flick: the ambitious, cutthroat know-it-all who sits in the front row and raises her hand a little too often. But this isn't the same world in which Clinton grew up, where highly educated women routinely faced unequal treatment at school, the derision of their male peers, and even constrained marital prospects. It's still an uphill battle for the smart girl, but there's a wider path than ever: Women outnumber men on college campuses, girls outperform boys in high school, and college-educated women are now more likely to get married than women without a degree. Young people are used to seeing smart girls and women dominate in the classroom and remain well-liked by their peers. Intelligence, and outright nerdiness, is far less of a liability than it used to be.

Democrats have been running away from the egghead stereotype for decades, while meanwhile the Republican Party's anti-intellectualism has bizarrely been an electoral boon. The American right has convinced much of the country that wanting to have a beer with someone is just as important as that someone being able to make complex, rational decisions, that being a straight talker who doesn't bow to political correctness is just as desirable as having an actual plan to run the country. That is a fundamentally stupid position, and Clinton should say so. The president doesn't need to be cool. We'd all be better off if our leader was more excited by the minutiae of policy and the detailed work of being a politician than by the public spectacle of an election. This is Clinton: She is bad at running for office but very good at holding it.

Clinton isn't as exciting a candidate as Trump. Nor is she as pure as a third-party candidate running not to win but to make a neat ideological point—supporting her lacks the idealistic sheen of being able to say, "Actually, I'm voting for Jill Stein." But no candidate has her intellect or her dedication to the boring work of governance. It may not be the most exhilarating campaign strategy, but to rope in young voters, it could be a winning one. Clinton should take a page from Trump's straight-talk strategy and tell it like it is: When it comes to the person who holds the nuclear codes, a know-it-all is infinitely better than a know-nothing.

Jill Filipovic is a journalist and author of the forthcoming The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.