“William Jefferson Clinton”

It’s amazing what an impeachment vote can do to lengthen your name. The president formerly known as Bill Clinton is now, in press accounts, invariably referred to as “William Jefferson Clinton.” Chatterbox did a Nexis search and found 363 references to “William Jefferson Clinton” during the past seven days. For the same period in 1997, Chatterbox found only 15 references to anyone named “William Jefferson Clinton.”

A few caveats, of course, are in order. Some of the references simply quote Congress’ articles of impeachment, which, like any formal government document, use the president’s formal name. (There may be an element of mockery in this instance.) Also, it must be conceded that the president is in the news more during this Christmas season than he was during the last. (Though a U.S. president is never exactly “out” of the news.)

Nonetheless, it’s clear that Our Bill has become William Jefferson to friend and foe alike. Robert Scheer, who is sympathetic to the president, writes in today’s Los Angeles Times that “a president’s failure to volunteer the information that his hand may have strayed to his paramour’s breast–the substantive issue in the perjury charge–caused William Jefferson Clinton to be only the second president impeached in the entire history of this nation.” William Carlsen conjures up a scene in today’s San Francisco Chronicle in which “[One hundred] senators solemnly file into the U.S. Senate chamber to deliver their verdict, and William Jefferson Clinton is convicted.” Nat Hentoff, in today’s Village Voice , refers to “William Jefferson Clinton.” So does Fordham University political scientist Tom DeLuca, writing in today’s Chicago Tribune .

Clearly, the media think that giving Clinton three names is the only way to acknowledge the weight of this particular historical moment. But mightn’t a more sinister, possibly unconscious process also be at work–one that’s even infected Clinton’s friends? In Chatterbox’s news-reading experience, people who have three names are almost always notorious killers. Henry Lee Lucas. Karla Faye Tucker. Mark David Chapman. John Wayne Gacy. John Wayne Glover. (As last Sunday’s New York TimesMagazine helpfully points out, famous killers have a marked tendency to have “Wayne” for a middle name.) Even assuming (as Chatterbox tends to) that Bill Clinton committed perjury, it seems awfully unfair to put him in this sort of company. So, memo to fellow scribblers: Let’s get back to “Bill Clinton.”

–Timothy Noah