Kagan Downplays Intelligence for the Masses

The Story

Elena Kagan, the Supreme Court nominee is no dummy, but she's intentionally simplifying her language to avoid an "egghead" stereotype, according to a New York Times article.  Apparently, most Americans don't value intelligence in their political candidates and may perceive the super-bright as just plain arrogant. 

Discussion Starters

  • Watch part of Kagan's opening statement.  How successful do you think she was in coming across as a "regular person"?
  • How is Kagan's attempt at simple, clear language similar to business writing principles discussed in Chapter 5?  How is this example different?  (Hint: How do Kagan's audiences differ from business audiences?)

Assignment Ideas

  • Find a business report (e.g., an annual report) or presentation (e.g., an investor presentation) online.  How appropriate is the communication for the intended audience?  Write a memo to the writer or presenter with your assessment about the level of communication.
  • Take a fresh look at a report you wrote recently.  Imagine you need to send the report to a new audience who is less familiar with the topic.  What adjustments would you make in writing style to adapt to this audience?