Time magazine (October 25) carries the article titled “The Populist Egghead” with a caption:

Sen. Cruz isn't being mocked for low wattage the way Palin and Reagan had been. He's being singled out for a lack of common sense born of his rarefied résumé.”

The sentence follows:

The populist claims to possess the horse sense of the electorate and has no need for fancy schools, with their eating clubs, trays of sherry, and debating societies. That was Sarah Palin's (and Reagan’s) posture. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2013/10/ted_cruz_is_a_populist_egghead_the_texas_senator_has_elite_credentials_but.html

I understand ‘low wattage’ is a figurative adaptation of electrical power, but what does it exactly mean in the above quote? Is it a common expression? Were both Sara Palin and Reagan really ‘low wattage’?

1 Answer 1


People who are intelligent are said to be bright, and people who aren't are said to be dim. This is sometimes expressed by likening people to light bulbs: if you say someone "isn't the brightest bulb in the box", you're saying that they aren't very smart.

Low wattage is presumably a reference to this metaphor. A low wattage bulb is dim, and someone who is dim is not very smart.

EDIT: As KitFox points out, it's not a common expression. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever heard it before, but the meaning seemed fairly clear to me, particularly in context. Palin and Reagan were both famously portrayed as stupid when they were in the spotlight. Headlines like "Even The Tea Party Doubts Sarah Palin's Intelligence" were commonplace in 2008 and 2010, and Reagan was famously labeled an "amiable dunce" while he was in office. Of course, not everyone agreed with these characterizations, but it's clear that this lack of intelligence is what low wattage refers to.

  • No need to presume. :) "Low wattage is" undoubtedly "a reference to this metaphor."
    – Lumberjack
    Oct 26, 2013 at 1:24
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    I agree with this answer, but I feel it is important to add that this isn't a common expression. I'm not the dimmest bulb, but it took me a few moments to grasp the meaning because it's not in regular parlance.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Oct 26, 2013 at 1:54
  • As I am reading this, another window is playing a video with tests of computer performance, talking about power consumption in the processor. That metaphor fits very well too! Oct 26, 2013 at 7:08
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    Inclined to not write this, but found it funny. In our time and age the power consumption is a highly debated theme. Thus giving a person the label of being low wattage could be a double edged sword … :)
    – Runium
    Oct 26, 2013 at 12:45

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