Matt Miller - The Archives
Earthquake: A divine downgrade?
The Washington Post, August 24, 2011

Breaking news graphics on screen

Brian Williams: Back live now as Washington and New York scramble to cope with the biggest earthquake in memory. We go to Luke Russert on Capitol Hill for the latest. Luke?

Russert: Brian, as you know, it's often not the event itself that matters most, but how that event is interpreted. And the war over the meaning of Tuesday's earthquake has begun. Some heavenly insiders have already dubbed it "the Divine Downgrade"—a reminder, they say, that it wasn't only ordinary mortals who were angered at the debt-ceiling fiasco that brought the U.S. to the brink of default, but God herself who was also displeased.

Now her wrath, we're told, is stretching up and down the eastern seaboard. When New York-based Standard & Poor's ousted its president Monday in favor of a longtime Citigroup executive, just as Bloomberg News revealed that the Fed had made a stunning $1.2 trillion in secret loans to big banks during the financial crisis, God was not amused. Sources close to Heaven say the S&P executive swap in particular—mistakenly judged by that ratings agency as likely to appease a vengeful Lord—was the last straw. In the words of one senior heavenly adviser, the Tuesday earthquake was God's way of "sending a shot across the bow."

Williams: But Luke, what are we to make of the epicenter? The fact that it was near Washington is leading some to conclude that God feels Washington is more to blame for our current sinfulness and dysfunction than Wall Street. Others say an earthquake hitting a full 87 miles from the Capitol shows that God is not nearly as omniscient as many believed. Which is it? Is God losing her stuff—or did an enraged deity intentionally design this "act of God" as a kind of brushback pitch?

Russert: I'm hearing a real division on this, Brian. Devout analysts insist God could smite Washington with a single blow anytime she wants, so a reprieve means God believes in second chances. But Lloyd Blankfein, for one, isn't taking any chances himself. Sources tell NBC that in addition to lawyering up this week in the face of a possible SEC or even criminal proceeding, the beleaguered Goldman Sachs CEO is also consulting his rabbi.

Williams: NBC Washington bureau chief Chuck Todd joins us now with reaction from the campaign trail. Chuck, what have Republicans been saying?

Todd: Brian, Republicans are calling the earthquake yet another vote of no confidence in President Obama's leadership, this time from On High. In response, David Axelrod told reporters that "politicizing a natural disaster is exactly the kind of blame game the American people are sick of," before hopping a plane to New Orleans to join a protest organized around the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Williams: Has the GOP closed ranks on this view?

Todd: Well, Brian, there was a fascinating moment in last night's GOP debate when the candidates were asked to raise both hands if they thought the earthquake represented divine condemnation of Barack Obama. All hands shot up, except for Jon Huntsman's, who said he honestly couldn't be sure this was an act of God at all. Instead, Huntsman said, it might have been, quote, "just some type of ordinary seismic activity with no divine cause." His rivals on the stage called immediately for Huntsman's head. This kind of rookie gaffe in a GOP primary may well keep the nomination out of the former Utah governor's reach. Brian?

Williams: Thanks, Chuck. Up ahead: Does the earthquake mean God is mad at the Tea Party for standing strong? At President Obama for being weak? Or both? Our experts debate. Plus—more on the 36 earthquakes California has suffered in the last week alone—and why Mitt Romney is praying the big one destroys the La Jolla mansion he'll otherwise tear down himself to build a new one.