As Hurricane Irene ravaged the East Coast this weekend, Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann said the storm and last week's earthquake were God's way of trying to get politicians in Washington to deal with soaring federal deficits.
"I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending," Bachmann said in Sarasota on Sunday, according to the St. Petersburg Times.
On Monday, Bachmann said the comments were said as a joke.
"If you take everything that a person says as straightforward you misunderstand the intent," Bachmann said in Florida. "So of course I was being humorous when I said that because the American people have tried very hard to get the President to pay attention; he is not listening. And that was really the message that I was trying to give in those comments. So it was a great deal of humor; it would be absurd to think that it was anything other."
Joking or not, hurricanes, natural disasters and other Acts of God pose very real tests for politicians and communities and very real differences on the role of government.
The Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody says part of it is just the way Michele Bachmann sees the world. For her, he said, God is "part of every sort of dynamic" including politics and weather.
"What Michele Bachmann's campaign strategy seems to be is to make sure she's not seen as an extreme candidate and for her not to just appeal to the Tea Party and evangelicals, but also independents. So when she comes out and jokes around like this -- her campaign is saying it's a joke -- it does play into the stereotype that's out there," Brody said. "That's a danger zone for her, but at the same time she is what she is, so it's hard for her to rein in at times."
In a 2005 ABC News poll, after Hurricane Katrina, 23 percent of those surveyed -- nearly one in four -- said they saw recent hurricanes as deliberate acts of God. Of them, about half said they thought Katrina was intended as "a warning." About one in three evangelical Protestants in the poll said they thought Katrina was a deliberate act of God.
The poll was conducted after an Alabama state senator described Hurricane Katrina as God's punishment for "gambling, sin and wickedness."
Bachmann wasn't the only GOP primary candidate to weigh in on the storm. For Rep. Ron Paul -- whose Texas district includes Hurricane-prone Galveston -- the storm was just another reminder that FEMA should be dismantled.
On Friday in New Hampshire, just hours before Irene started her destructive trip up the Eastern seaboard, Paul said it should be up to the states to deal with natural disasters.
"We should be like 1900. We should be like 1940, 1950, 1960," Paul told a reporter for NBC News in Gilford, N.H. "I live on the Gulf Coast; we deal with hurricanes all the time. Galveston is in my district."
"There's no magic about FEMA. They're a great contribution to deficit financing and, quite frankly, they don't have a penny in the bank. We should be coordinated, but coordinated voluntarily with the states," Paul said. "A state can decide. We don't need somebody in Washington."