WASHINGTON - 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 G. Roberts Jr. did during last 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 Mr. Obama's patriotism should have to hear it pronounced with dignity and respect in the presence of a largely approving 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 President George W. 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, Mr. Bush seemed paler than usual and wan next to a youthful, energized Mr. Obama.
Despite his cheerful attitude, it cannot have been easy for Mr. Bush to see the Mall teeming with people who had come to celebrate not only a new president but also Mr. Bush's departure. Or to hear some in the crowd chant "Na-na-na-na, 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 Mr. Bush for his service, Mr. Obama aimed many of his remarks straight at the heart of Mr. Bush's policies. Most piercing was his promise to the rest of the world that America was now ready to lead again.
Mr. 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. And now for our turn.
Mr. 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 - Mr. 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.
Kathleen Parker's syndicated column appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun. Her e-mail is email@example.com.