What’s in a name?
My name was going to be Max Tanner. “Max” like from The Goofy Movie and “Tanner” like the beloved Full House family. I figured my real name, Vickram Ravindran, was a bit too long and complicated for movie posters and late night hosts. If I wanted to be a successful actor, I was going to have to make some alterations. Besides, people change their names all the time when they get to Hollywood. Natalie Hershlag became Natalie Portman and Eric Marlon Bishop became Jamie Foxx.
I remember practicing the autograph for my new name in front of the TV. I must have been 10 years old.
Four years later, a “skinny kid with a funny name” would deliver a Keynote Address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and four years after that, he would go on to become the 44th President of the United States of America. I’ve personally never wanted to be the president but Barack Hussein Obama showed me that it was a possibility. His election allowed me to see that a dark skinned man who wasn’t a Johnson or a Bush or a Kennedy, could seek and attain the highest office in the land. That, to me, is freedom. There is freedom in allowing yourself to dream big dreams that may not seem like they belong to you, or people who look like you, or to kids with funny names.
Another candidate with a nontraditional name ran for president in 2008 — Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Yes, a “Clinton” had already been President but a “Hillary” would certainly be a first. After a contentious primary, Barack Obama clinched the nomination and Clinton conceded, delivering her “18 million cracks” speech to a riveted audience of wistful supporters. Women had tears in their eyes, some defeated, some beaming with pride. That “highest, hardest glass ceiling,” would have to wait.
Eight years later, Hillary would concede again, this time after becoming the first woman to be a major political party’s nominee for president and having won the national popular vote.
I, like many others, was disappointed. I wanted her to win for many reasons. I wanted to ensure protections for the environment and create more jobs in clean energy. I wanted to cement LGBT rights and women’s rights in the Supreme Court. I wanted to see an increase in access to healthcare, voting rights and a quality education. I wanted to see Hillary and Angela Merkel smirk at each other at a bilateral press conference. I wanted to look back in time at the women who marched in the Seventies and the women who gathered at Seneca Falls and say “We did it!”
More than anything though, I wanted to look at the faces of the women in my life as Hillary delivered her inaugural address and see if it sparked the same light in them that Barack Obama had sparked for me. I wanted to see how watching a woman lead the free world would change a generation of women and girls.
When Hillary became the First Lady of Arkansas, her lawyerly disposition and choice to keep her own last name was met with mixed to negative reactions from a constituency who had come to expect a more traditional role for their elected officials’ spouses. Despite a wardrobe update, a name change and a push to assume more lady-like duties, Bill Clinton lost his gubernatorial re-election campaign, with many citing Hillary’s inability to inhabit her role for his loss. Hillary would end up fighting this battle for the rest of her political life, a balancing act of who she was supposed to be as a woman in American society and who she wanted to be as an agent of change.
As First Lady of the United States, she ruffled feathers by taking the lead in the fight for universal healthcare, with many insisting she stick to running the White House. In her first presidential campaign, she was critiqued for not leaning into her historic role as a female candidate and in her second, she was knocked for supposedly relying on it. Her detractors and supporters alike labelled her as inauthentic, ambitious, too weak, too far left or too far right. With the entire nation forming divergent opinions on not only her policies, but her hair, attire, voice and laugh, it’s hard not to see her as a child practicing an autograph for a name they had made up to sound more palatable. Someone bursting with merit, dying for a chance to contribute without being scrutinized for their physical or societal limitations.
While her controversies and triumphs will be dissected for ages, along with the entirety of the 2016 election, history will look kindly upon Hillary Clinton.
The fact that the current administration has already racked up several scandals, ethics violations and policy failures helps to highlight what could have been a fairly traditional presidency.
Though she may not have won, I do believe Hillary made her mark on women and girls around the country and the world. Each of her appearances on the national stage has served to push the limit of women’s role in government, ultimately paving the way for a wave of women who may thank her for it or not. As Michelle Obama stated during her speech at the Democratic National Convention last summer, “because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”
Will future candidates of color be forced to share their birth certificates? Maybe. Will future female candidates have to deal with endless scrutiny of their appearance? Likely.
Hillary and Barack are just the first of a wave of names that will challenge normalcy in America to varying degrees of success. As the American experiment continues and our population grows more diverse, it becomes our responsibility as citizens to keep an open mind to those who champion ideas that benefit our nation and expand our democracy, regardless of how their creed, color, gender, background, orientation or religion shapes our perception of them. To fall short of that would be denying ourselves and future generations of Americans a chance at building more perfect union. It is certainly a lot to ask of our complex nation and it certainly won’t happen overnight or even in a generation, but as a skinny kid with a funny name pointed out in 2008, “it is where we start. It is where we grow stronger… that is where the perfection begins.”