Graham: Chillary Clinton — when politics, youth collide

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Emojis are perfect for shorthand communication. In many situations, a happy face, giant heart or slice of pizza is all you need to get your point across.

But there is a time and a place for emojis, and presidential campaigns are not one of them.

That didn’t stop Hillary Clinton from sending out this cringe-inducing communique via Twitter the other day:

“How does your student loan debt make you feel? Tell us in 3 emojis or less.”


Now, this is not about Clinton and her student loan initiatives. Nor is it about the dismissive notion that three cartoon symbols — or less! — can accurately illustrate what it feels to walk out into the world with what is now an average of $30,000 worth of debt. It’s about what happens when politicians attempt to loosen up and relate to young people by appropriating their forms of communication, and how tweets like Clinton’s are only the beginning of the landslide of awkwardness that’s to come during this election season and beyond.

We are still very early into the 2016 Presidential campaign, and it’s already the most embarrassing campaign ever. Clinton’s tweet is just one example of what can go wrong when politicians try too hard to be cool by relating to the kids.

Earlier this summer, there was a BuzzFeed video of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, doing impressions of his favorite characters from “The Simpsons.” (Thankfully, we were spared his impression of Apu.) Rick Perry announced his candidacy for President on Snapchat. And as soon as Donald Trump discovers all he needs is a phone to turn his life into a 24/7 broadcast on Periscope, we’re all doomed.

Politicians reaching out to the youth is nothing new, it has just accelerated in the modern era. The shift came when Bill Clinton appeared on Arsenio Hall’s show wailing on his saxophone, and later when he participated in a question and answer session on MTV where he was asked if he wears boxers of briefs. (“Usually briefs,” was Clinton’s memorable answer.)

Fast forward to the 2008 presidential campaign, when Barack Obama and John McCain were peppered with questions about what was on their iPods. (Side note: remember iPods?)

But this is the first campaign to take place in the social media era, and in an effort to stay relevant, candidates are forced to maintain a presence on Twitter, Instagram and various other social media platforms. That is why we have Hillary Clinton posing for selfies with Kim Kardashian (that really happened) and filming short Snapchat vids where she posts video of a koozie with the words “more like Chillary Clinton” on it while proclaiming in a most unchill manner, “I’m just chillin’ in Cedar Rapids” (that really happened too, unfortunately).

No, presidential campaigns are going to be won or lost over social media. (Maybe not. Probably not? Let’s hope not.) And there’s nothing wrong with our candidates pretending to be normal people.

But being a normal person is not their job, and when they try too hard to be normal, it shows how not normal they are, which is the exact opposite of what they were trying to do in the first place. It’s like texting with your parents: You can put up with the typos and weird autocorrects for awhile, but a phone call is usually better.

The 2016 election is still 15 months away, and there are new technologies that haven’t even been created yet that the candidates will be embarrassing themselves with come Election Day. Let’s just hope they realize when they try to be hip it makes us feel way more than three emojis, and none of them are the happy face, the giant heart or the slice of pizza.