Elizabeth Kolbert reviews the two new books about Hillary Clinton in the current New Yorker, which happens to be the summer fiction issue. Her article reminds us that in the Clintonian universe no question is so simple that the answer might not present metaphysical complexities that would have left Martin Heidegger gasping. "What’s your name?" for example, sets off this five-alarm fire:
When she married Bill, at the age of twenty-seven, Clinton pointedly decided to remain Hillary Rodham. According to [Carl] Bernstein, she had resolved to do this “as a young girl, even before the practice was encouraged by a nascent women’s movement.” He quotes Clinton telling a friend that the choice was a matter of principle: it affirmed that she would continue to be “a person in my own right.” Seven years later, when Bill was in a tough campaign to regain the Arkansas governorship, Hillary changed her mind. Except, she insisted, it wasn’t a change at all.
“I don’t have to change my name,” she declared. “I’ve been Mrs. Bill Clinton. I kept the professional name Hillary Rodham in my law practice, but now I’m going to be taking a leave of absence from the law firm to campaign full-time for Bill and I’ll be Mrs. Bill Clinton.” Hillary remained Mrs. Bill Clinton all the way up to the eve of her husband’s Inauguration as President, at which point she suddenly began introducing herself as Hillary Rodham Clinton. This change, too, she insisted, wasn’t one. “Hillary Rodham Clinton has been the First Lady’s name all along, since 1982,” her press secretary, Lisa Caputo, told the Times, in what was described as a tone of exasperation. “We’re at a loss as to why people think this is something that we’re just trying to change now.” A few weeks ago, the Albany Times-Union reported that Clinton has now dropped “Rodham” from her Presidential-campaign literature, though it still appears on communications from her Senate office. Even the one apparent constant in this history—Hillary—turns out to be dodgy. During a 1995 trip to Nepal, Clinton said to reporters that she had been told that she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary, the first climber to reach the top of Mt. Everest. This is why, she explained, her name has two “l”s. But, since Clinton was born in 1947 and Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander, was unknown outside his own country until his summit, in 1953, the account, as many noted, was implausible. (Questioned about the tale during the 2006 Senate campaign, a Clinton aide called it a “sweet family story her mother shared to inspire greatness in her daughter.”)