I’m turning 20 today. And Hillary Rodham Clinton is turning 70.
I don’t remember when I found out that we shared a birthday. I think back to my parents listening to Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)” in the car, and it seems as though she was lurking in the shadows, waiting for me to discover this connection. Maybe I read it in a book you’d only find at a Scholastic Book Fair — you know, one of those celebrity almanacs that inexplicably contained the birthdays of every public figure imaginable. “I want to switch birthdays with you,” I remember a friend saying, as we pored over one such book together, a few weeks after I had turned 10 and Hillary had turned 60. “I have to share a birthday with Britney Spears.”
It was 2007: Hillary (after a several-year break) was in the news again, running against Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. I had recently been nominated for Student of the Week, and I couldn’t figure out who to put down as my role model on the questionnaire I'd been given. My mom suggested Hillary Clinton. The rest of the questionnaire was easy after that: my dream job was “lawyer,” my plan after school was to (accordingly) attend law school, and maybe to go into politics. So she entered my life, and so I tried to model my own life after hers.
I’ve reached a point today, though, at which I would much, much rather read about Britney Spears than Hillary Clinton. The dismantling of your idealized image of your childhood role model is a strange thing — but as you protect them fiercely, then attack them just as fiercely, then come to a funny sort of equilibrium, you become your own person. You have got to burn your idols.
We so often predicate our existence on someone else’s — their successes are your successes, and you avoid any information whatsoever that might point to their failings. You’re connected so closely to them, after all, that their failings are your failings. But, as is so often said, you can’t be yourself if you’re busy being someone else.
I had all sorts of superstitions in 2007, and among them was that sharing a birthday with someone meant something, that this small coincidence somehow signified that I (Oct. 26, 1997) had a real connection with Hillary (Oct. 26, 1947).
When Hillary agreed to be Barack Obama’s Secretary of State, I was thrilled. I continued to tell adults that I wanted to be a lawyer — I’d realized at the time that I actually wanted to be a journalist, but it somehow seemed to be a more respectable career, and after all, Hillary had done it! I had connected myself so closely to her — going so far as to search for something approximating the pair of striped pants in this photo — that it was impossible for me to look critically at her actions in this role. “HILLARY 2016” seemed both inevitable and right.
But by the time I got to college, when Hillary was once more running for president, it seemed that everyone had grown up and knew all kinds of things about Hillary’s career that I’d just… missed. I realized, after some painful arguments, that it was ridiculous of me to call myself “progressive” (as I was fond of doing in high school) while throwing my uncritical support behind Hillary. All this time, I hadn’t bothered to seek out the real-life Hillary: once I finally watched a debate between her and Bernie Sanders, I felt torn. I didn’t actually agree with some of her positions, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the way she’d spoken — in fact, I’m not even sure I’d heard her speak for longer than a news-bite prior to that debate.
Because of these feelings, I voted for Sanders in the 2016 primary, but I wasn’t able to articulate to my parents why, when they asked. I just knew that I couldn’t vote for Hillary. She’d betrayed me by not being, well, an older and much more accomplished version of me. That summer, I was angry. I covered protests at the DNC, trying to understand why others on the left despised Hillary; in the end, I’m not sure I had it in me to hate her guts, but it wasn't for lack of trying.
I know what I believe now, and I can (usually) engage with others in a way I couldn’t during the entirety of the last election cycle. Hillary’s life isn’t one I want, and her beliefs don’t map to mine — but that’s not something I’m personally offended by, not anymore. You’re only relevant to me today, Hillary. I’m my own person now. Happy birthday to you; happy birthday to me.
SHILPA SARAVANAN is a College junior from College Station, Texas, studying linguistics. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Phone Home” usually appears every Thursday.
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