The Book Club

Not Required for a Senator: Expertise in Entertaining

Dear Marjorie and Brent,

OK, hands up. Would either of you have read this book–let alone gone to the store and paid 35 of your own actual dollars for it–if it had not been assigned to you and, conveniently, delivered free of charge?

I didn’t think so. But here it is, and here we are. And An Invitation to the White House, the latest book by the newest senator from New York, is interesting, at least, in what it reveals about the many disparate personalities of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Hillary is a moving target, a specialist in contradictory behavior. She has derided women who stay home to bake, and then unveiled her own chocolate chip cookie recipe. She has appeared in more hairstyles than a femme fatale on an afternoon soap. She has pitched herself as an implacable feminist but then failed to jettison the husband who publicly humiliated her; pitched herself as a devoted wife in public, while (if you believe the insider accounts) shooting mental death rays at her husband at home.

So it’s not out of character that she published An Invitation to the White House, a shiny coffee table book full of recipes, photographs, sample menus, and party and decorating chat, virtually the day she was elected to the U.S. Senate. Having spent her first ladydom uneasily attempting to fashion a satisfactory public persona for herself, Hillary has seized this 11th-hour opportunity to add another identity to her unwieldy portfolio: that of gracious hostess with talents in arranging flowers, choosing menus, picking wallpaper, appreciating the historical importance of pieces of furniture, and standing with a big smile in receiving lines.

That’s fine, I guess. But as a New Yorker, do I really want my senator to be known for her expertise in presiding over a state dinner for Vaclav Havel in 1998 in which Lou Reed performed, protocol officers orchestrated split-second entrances and exits by walkie-talkie, and gingered pheasant consommé, oregano-marinated goat cheese, roasted salmon with honey spice glaze, carrot and corn risotto, and charred tomato compote were served before everyone repaired to the next room for dancing?

I do not.

I’d rather have Hillary the health-care expert (even if her health-care plan was not the best health-care plan the world has ever seen). I’d rather have Hillary the lawyer, Hillary the debater, Hillary the children’s advocate, Hillary the cool customer, Hillary the brains behind the throne. I don’t want Hillary the Martha Stewart or, even worse, Hillary the Jacqueline Kennedy. I’ve seen that old TV footage of Jackie showing off her White House redecorations, and once was enough. It irritates me that Hillary feels she has to play on that level as well as all the other levels, and it also irritates me that this book promotes an image of life at the White House that is so at odds with what we assume to have actually gone on there, at least in the last couple of years. (In the discussion of the many rooms in the building and the many programs offered there, there is of course no mention of the Oval Office or the internship program.)

And now I’m eagerly awaiting Bill’s forthcoming book on entertaining at the senatorial home in Chappaqua. But meanwhile, I’m going to go whip up some poached lobster with marinated orange salad, saffron-scented basmati rice, and emerald cilantro chutney, and serve it up to 200 world leaders, opera singers, cellists, poets, and aging pop stars before I launch a bid for national office in a state other than my own.

Yours in Hillary overload,