By Kathleen Parker
Friday, January 23, 2009 12:00 AM
It may be time to take a closer look at karmic justice -- that mysterious quid pro quo by which good and bad acts are rewarded in kind.
One needn't believe in past lives and reincarnation to note that there's a whole lotta shakin' goin' on. Put another way: What goes around comes around.
The most obvious manifestation is the 44th president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama.
I mention his middle name only because Chief Justice John Roberts did during this week's swearing-in ceremony, a proper time for proper names. It was wholly karmic that those who have been hissing "Hussein" as though it were a profane indictment of Obama's patriotism should have to hear it pronounced with dignity and respect in the presence of a largely approving world.
It has never been clear to less-fevered minds why the name's association with Iraq's Saddam was more compelling than with Jordan's royal family. King Hussein, now deceased, and his son King Abdullah II have been among our most valuable allies in the Middle East.
But never mind. The name now belongs to the president of the United States, biracial leader of the free world. Karma be praised.
Another karmic image, both tragic and jarring, lingers from the inauguration -- that of Vice President Dick Cheney being transported from the halls of power in a wheelchair. The man whose long political career has been characterized by erect certitude -- and who advised Bush through a series of disastrous misjudgments -- was no longer capable of walking upright because of a back injury.
To the extent that our physical ailments reflect our interior lives, his final public appearance as vice president must have seemed a monument to karmic justice to the least of his fans. Likewise, Bush seemed paler than usual and wan next to a youthful, energized Obama.
Despite his cheerful attitude, it cannot have been easy for Bush to see the Mall teeming with people who had come to celebrate not only a new president, but Bush's departure. Or to hear some in the crowd chant "Na-na-na-nah, hey, hey, hey, goodbye" when a television broadcaster announced, "George Bush is no longer president of the United States."
The bad vibes didn't stop there.
After first praising Bush for his service, Obama aimed many of his remarks straight at the heart of Bush's policies. Most piercing was his promise to the rest of the world that America was now ready to lead again.
Obama recalled earlier generations that "faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions."
"They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please."
There's little question for whom that was intended, but Obama was off the mark when he said that "we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders."
Say what one will about Bush, he was not indifferent to the suffering of others. In fact, he is credited with saving millions of lives by allocating billions to fight AIDS and malaria in Africa. He also has been instrumental in helping bring an end to civil war in Sudan and was among the first to declare the atrocities in Darfur as genocide.
By those acts, surely, Bush has accrued a store of good karma, if little public acclamation, to balance whatever justice is his due.
On a lighter note in the annals of karmic history, Illinois first lady Patricia Blagojevich has been fired from her $100,000 job as a fundraiser for the homeless.
And former French President Jacques Chirac was taken to the hospital after being bitten by his pet Maltese poodle. The pup was being treated for depression, apparently unsuccessfully.
Somewhere, Tony Blair is smiling.
And now for our turn.
Obama didn't use the precise words, but he implied in his inaugural address that our current crises are karmic justice for decades of self-indulgence, greed and irresponsibility. It's not that we necessarily deserve a collapsed economy, two wars and a warming planet, but we can't place all the blame elsewhere.
Urging a new era of responsibility -- long the rallying cry of conservatives -- Obama was essentially invoking ancient scripture: "For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
As presidential mantras go, we could do worse. May good karma be with him.