Tuesday, March 31, 2009

SoS Clinton's Magical Blooper

Secretary of State Clinton made an apparent faux pas during a recent visit to our southern neighbors:

The Catholic News Agency reports that on her recent trip to Mexico, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She left flowers on behalf of the American people.

The Basilica is the second most visited Catholic shrine in the world, and the Lady of Guadalupe is one of the principal symbols of the Mexican nation. The Basilica houses a cloak that belonged to a 16th-century Indian, on which an image of the Virgin Mary miraculously appeared. In the intervening years, no scientific explanation of the image has been forthcoming. Among Catholics (and many others), this is one of the most famous of all miracles...

...The Catholic News Agency says that after viewing the cloak, Clinton turned to the priest who was showing her the Basilica and asked, "Who painted it?"

This is one of those stories that seem like it can't possibly be true. Could America's Secretary of State really be ignorant of a central cultural symbol of a country next door? It is as though a foreign minister came to Washington, was shown Stuart's portrait of George Washington, and asked, "Who was he?" It is hard to imagine how Clinton's staff could have prepared her for her visit without making sure she knew the story. So for now, I'm reserving judgment. It will be interesting to see whether CNS's story is confirmed and whether the State Department has any comment.
As stated above, this is an unconfirmed story that only exists for now in the blogosphere but let's say for the sake of argument that it is true. It's admittedly a diplomatic blunder on her part and I agree with the sentiment above that her staff should have made her aware of the paintings significance but the analogy about Stuart's portrait of Washington is a horrible and frankly misleading one.

This situation is much more akin to aliens landing on Earth and asking a fundamentalist Christian how long it took the forces of nature to form our planet. Now you can say that it would be bad form for them to not have known about that person's religious beliefs but would you really blame them for assuming that the Earth wasn't formed in less than a week by an invisible magic man? Again, I'm not saying that this wasn't at least a minor screw up (if it's at all true) but I really don't see how you can criticize her for assuming that the painting had been created in the same manner as pretty much every other piece of art made since we became a species, i.e. by human hands. I'm sure she'll make other mistakes in her time as Secretary of State but let's reserve our criticism for the actually important blunders.

[Update: It turns out that Clinton was asking about a framed reproduction of the relic and not the one supposedly created with pixie dust. That's the word, anyway.]

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