Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

What the Meaning of "Name" Is

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.”)

Discussions - 3 Comments

The irony in this, of course, is that all this dodging and changing of the mind and denial seems to emphasize rather than to refute the infamous charge of changeability and inconstancy in women. If Hillary was striving to be something other than the stereotypical silly woman, she has failed miserably on this account.

I still say, by the way, that Florence King wrote the final word on Hillary for me many years ago as the 1992 campaign began to get serious. It must have been in National Review and it must have been sometime before the convention that summer. (I would love to track it down--so if someone has time to look it up and finds it online, do send a link). My memory of the details is dim, but she characterized Hillary as the class busy-body with "a trail of crepe-paper" following her down the hall. In short, she gives the appearance of seriousness but, at bottom, she is just hyper-busy and extremely annoying. She invents ways to impress herself upon people and causes around which to rally. She is no Abigail Adams (as Bill was certainly no John) but she was just as indispensable to her president husband. In her position of indirect rule, despite the foibles of her uncontrollable husband, she was probably quite content and at the peak of her glory. I am pretty sure that the Senate has been a disappointment in comparison--and that may explain her drive to get back to the White House. She can’t put Bill back in that role so she has to do it herself. But she will be even more bitterly disappointed if she gets her way. The only satisfaction I may take from a Hillary Clinton presidency is the assurance I have that it will make her most decidedly miserable. She will not be doing work for which she is in any way suited and it certainly will not bring her the laurels she so craves. She will quickly discover that she is no longer "the smartest woman in the world" --even to her friends. She will certainly surround herself with sycophants and charlatans--but I think she is, at least, intelligent enough not to respect them or their judgment. And she will serve, if she wins, only one fairly miserable term.

Yes, Julie, good point. My wife happily took my name - and she wouldn't have it any other way - because she knows who she is and what she values in life. After 12 years of marriage, she feels neither oppressed by my last name or the institution of marriage.

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