On her own

Hillary takes one giant step and one baby step out of her husband's political shadow.

By Anthony York

Published July 8, 1999 1:00PM (EDT)

How do you get out of the shadow of a famous husband who happens to be in the same line of work as you? Hillary Rodham Clinton provided two clues -- one substantive, one stylistic -- to her answer during her first quasi-official day on the New York Senate campaign trail Wednesday.

The first lady has reportedly made a major break with her husband over Middle East policy. The New York Forward is set to report Friday that Hillary referred to Jerusalem as "the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel," in a letter to the president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, Dr. Mandell Ganchrow.

"If I am chosen by New Yorkers to be their senator, or in whatever position I find myself in the years to come, you can be sure that I will be an active, committed advocate for a strong and secure Israel, able to live in peace with its neighbors, with the United States Embassy located in its capital, Jerusalem," the letter states. Clinton's political stand could help rally her base of Jewish Democratic voters in New York, some of whom were rattled by her earlier calls for Palestinian statehood.

Neither the Orthodox Union nor Clinton's staff could be reached for comment Wednesday.

Another clue about how Clinton will differ from her husband politically came from her new Web site. In her seven years in the White House, she has sloughed off several uncomfortable political identities, moving from health-care maven to the unnatural role of humble housewife; trading the image of policy wonk for that of woman scorned. But now, according to the Web site, she has shed something else: her last name.

Joining the ranks of the world's most renowned personalities -- Madonna, Cher, Sting and R2-D2 -- the New York Senate candidate is now simply Hillary. Not Hillary Rodham. Not Hillary Clinton. Not Hillary Rodham Clinton. Just Hillary. This is not an official name change, of course, but the one-word appellation is everywhere on her new Web site. It's in the URL: www.hillary2000.org. And though the exploratory committee is officially dubbed "the Hillary Rodham Clinton For U.S. Senate Exploratory Committee, Inc." she is referred to throughout the site by her one-word moniker.

Everywhere on the site, there are little notes from Clinton, with a scanned, simple one word autograph. While on the site, you can see about "Hillary's Listening Tour." And if you view the site en Espaqol, you can read "Las Columnas de Hillary -- Discutiendo." If you sign up for her e-mail list, here's the form letter you get:

"I'm so pleased to know you are interested in keeping up with our Exploratory Committee by e-mail. As I travel through New York this summer, listening to New Yorkers, I will also use this e-mail network to stay in touch and bring you news of our activities."


This is just the latest alteration for the woman who's changed her name almost as often as her home state. She was born Hillary Diane Rodham, and she remained Hillary Rodham, at least professionally, after she married Bill Clinton in 1975. After her husband lost his 1980 bid for reelection as Arkansas governor, she dropped her maiden name at the insistence of Clinton's advisors. After Bill was elected president in 1992, Hillary told the press corps that she wanted to be known as Hillary Rodham Clinton. Rumors that she will soon change her name to an unpronounceable symbol and go by "the Senate Candidate Formerly Known as Hillary" were not confirmed by her campaign.

Part of this may be simple marketing. A one-word name is catchier than the stodgy-sounding seven syllable version. And in the American vernacular, trinomial names are usually reserved for assassins, postmodern novelists or members of the Kennedy clan.

But part of the strategy is clearly to distance herself from her husband. And what better way to do that than to shed the Clinton name like a stained blue dress. Ever since the Lewinsky scandal broke, Hillary has been publicly coquettish about her disdain for Bill. She has made repeated jokes about her firsthand knowledge of the difficulties of marriage.

After her husband's acquittal in the U.S. Senate, newspaper reports buzzed with rumors of a split between the first couple. Even now, it remains unclear what will come of the first couple after they leave Pennsylvania Avenue, with Hillary possibly representing New York in the Senate while Clinton returns to Arkansas to build his presidential library.

But as Herr Clinton's political career begins its long twilight, the upstart Hillary has become a phenomenon in her own right. Her Senate candidacy will be the full employment act for hundreds of journalists from around the world. That one simple word -- Hillary -- will unlock the purses and wallets of thousands of Democratic donors across the country who will undoubtedly fill the newest New Yorker's campaign coffers, just as it will mobilize a fierce counter-attack by Republican activists.

Her foray into electoral politics will ensure that for the first time in recent memory, a race for U.S. Senate will rival the presidential contest as media spectacle. As she strives to make a series of "firsts" in her unprecedented candidacy for U.S. Senate, maybe one name is all she needs.

Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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Bill Clinton Hillary Rodham Clinton