Karma and Dogma

Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Ever play pool?

Even if not, you've certainly seen it. Fascinating game, honestly; click! and the cue ball drives a colored ball forward; click! and that ball hits another. In some ways, it's even more fascinating to watch it backwards, because then all the elements of choice are taken out. You know how the game ended, and now you can see clearly that every position of every ball, at every moment, was completely determined by what came before.

I was thinking about this last year, just after Christmas. Saddam Hussein was about to be executed; Jerry Ford had just died. The coincidence made me think about karma.

Karma is much misunderstood in the West: people have learned to use it as a synonym for "fate" or "predestination". A New-Age person may say "it must been karma". George Harrison wrote about "instant karma gonna get you". Someone responds to a misfortune saying "ooh, bad karma, man!" But karma isn't "fate" — it's cause and effect. There's no need for a mysterious fate, for Gods of Karma to decide your punishments and rewards for your bad or good deeds — it's like billiards. Each ball goes to its next position, determined by what happened before: that's karma.

So there I sat, comparing two lives. Saddam was under guard, and about to be hanged, his death a moment to celebrate for millions of people: karma. Jerry Ford, dying in his bed, surrounded by family: also karma. Both of them at exactly the point to which, looking backwards, events in their lives had led them.

After Ford died, there was the usual retrospective. One of the aspects of this, at least in the world of conservative thought, were recollections of the 1976 election. It's a little unnerving to realize that this was thirty years ago — it was the first campaign I was really active in (I was a Ford delegate to the Colorado GOP Convention, and yes, we got our butts handed to us by Reagan.) Colorado notwithstanding, Ford did eventually win the nomination — and then lost the election to Jimmy Carter.

According to these retrospectives, when Reagan lost the nomination, the "true conservatives" sat out the election. Ford actually lost the election by only a few thousand votes that turned a few states with relatively large electoral vote counts. Ten thousand votes, in a couple of states, would have meant Ford, not Carter, in 1976.

Hear the click? The cue ball striking the three, perhaps?

After that, of course, Carter took office. Many things happened: the Shah fell, the Islamic Republic rose in Iran. The Revolutionary Guard stormed the US Embassy; fifty-odd hostages were taken; the US made an abortive, and utterly unsuccessful, rescue attempt (and a number of other, less publicized, rescues were actually completed.)

At the end of the Carter Administration, there was a violent, radical, and committed Islamist theocracy in Iran.

Another click? The three striking the thirteen, let's say.

A little while later, the Iranian-funded Hisbul'lah murdered 250 American troops in Lebanon with a suicide bomb. For whatever reasons, the Reagan Administration withdrew from Lebanon. (Click!) Iran and Iraq came to be at war, and the decision was made that, since there was no way for them both to lose, Iran — a radical, committed, determined, committed, and unshakably anti-American Islamist theocracy — couldn't be allowed to win. So the US held its nose and helped Saddam, rather than see Iran in control of the Straits of Hormuz and half the worlds oil.

Another shot, another click as the cue strikes the thirteen, which in turn strikes the seven.

Reagan's second term, and the Iran-Iraq War, ended, along with the Soviet Union and many other things. Saddam, figuring he'd been the winner (he was still alive, wasn't he?) and thinking he had rather more of a carte blanche than he really did, invaded Kuwait. (Click!)

George H. W. Bush says "read my lips!" and then reneges in a compromise deal with a Democrat Congress. George Mitchell and Tip O'Neill hail Bush for his statesmanship, bravery, and independence — for about twenty minutes, and then use "read my lips!" against him for the rest of the campaign.

Conservatives are pissed. Pat Buchanan starts an insurrection from the Right, and Ross Perot comes into the election (more clicks: Bush and Buchanan never got along, Perot hated Bush for reasons of his own.) Perot starts out looking like a conservative, then morphs into Marvin the Martian, but pulls conservative, down-home, populists along with him. Buchanan loses the GOP nomination; the "true conservatives", still angry at the new taxes compromise — or, as they see it, betrayal — either sit out the election, or vote for Perot.

And Clinton wins a bare plurality in a three-way election.

In eight years, the size of the US military is reduced by half, as Clinton and Gingrich compete to use the Peace Dividend. In the mean time, the World Trade Center is bombed by Islamists the first time; two Embassies are blown up in Africa; a US warship is attacked; hundreds of Americans die. Finally, a few months after George W Bush takes office, a concerted joint attack takes down the World Trace Center, a wing of the Pentagon, and is just a few heroes away from destroying either the Capitol or the White House.

See what I mean, about karma? Certainly no one of the "true conservatives" who sat out the 1976 election because they thought Ford was "too liberal" thought the result would be the fall of the Shah of Iran and the rise of radical state Islamism — but it followed, and there is good reason to think it was a consequence. Nor did conservatives who sat out 1992 plan to see the military decimated, and multiple attacks effectively go unanswered. But the election went to Clinton, and that's the way the balls fell.

Now, we've had another election, and the "true conservatives", angry with No Child Left behind and immigration, sat it out; control of both houses of Congress turned. The same "true conservatives" are talking about the desirability of sitting out the next election.


[Update: Thanks, Glenn!]


Reliapundit said...

i blame gerald ford for everything: he beat reagan AND THEN lost to carter.


Barry Dauphin said...

That's interesting, especially since it's usually conservatives that tout the phrase, "the perfect being the enemy of the good". I've often admired George Will's writing over the years, but his column on Alberto Gonzales' departure was petty and classless.

BTW I think Instant Karma was John Lennon's not Harrison's.

Seneca the Younger said...

Oh. Damn.

Geoff said...

Yes but... you know, this whole thing just reeks of post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Take Iran, for example. Please explain, in realistic detail, how Ford, Carter, or anyone could have prevented the fall of the Shah. Wind back 10 years and tell him to ease off on the secret police stuff? No, I didn't think so. And could we have turned the Iranians into friends and allies? Given Israel, probably not. So suck it up and stop playing that romantic, "Ah, if only..." music. Then rinse and repeat for most of this stuff.

And in spite of all of this, Saddam wasn't behind 9/11. Go on, admit it. You'll feel better.

Seneca the Younger said...

I knew I could depend on you, Geoff.

I must have missed the part where I said Saddam was responsible for 9/11, though.

loner said...

Tip O'Neill retired in 1994. Tom Foley was Speaker of the House for most of the first Bush presidency.

Carter won Ohio with a margin of 11,000 votes in 1976. There were 7 states where the margin was closer. Ford carried Maine (4M), Nevada (9M), New Mexico (10M), Oregon (2M), South Dakota (4M) and Vermont (11M). Carter carried Hawaii (7M). Winning 10,000 more votes or even winning Ohio would not have been enough for Ford. Winning Ohio and Hawaii would have given him a one vote margin in the Electoral College and made his popular vote deficit closer to 1.6 million.

loner said...

Scratch Vermont (11M). Ford won Vermont by 21,000 so it's 5 of the 6 states that were closer than Ohio went to Ford in 1976. Eugene "Gene" McCarthy was the third highest vote-getter in 1976 with 740,460 votes. The Libertarian, Roger MacBride, finished fourth with 172,553. Jimmy Carter's predecessor as Georgia Governor, Lester Maddox, was fifth with 170,274.

What a difference 30 years has made. Carter won every Southern state except Virginia and Ford won 4 of the 6 New England states, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois and California. All were in the other column in 2004 and really only Florida, Michigan and New Hampshire were what most anyone would term competitive.

Tom Perkins said...

Seneca the Younger said...
I must have missed the part where I said Saddam was responsible for 9/11, though.

I must have missed the part where he claimed Saddam had anything to do with 9/11.

Matthew said...

Hmm..conservatives sit out 76 and get Reagan. They sit out 92 and get both Houses of Congress back after 50 years. Maybe the GOP leadership ought to look at the results and give us real leadership now, instead of waiting for the grassroots to cull the leadership and replace it for a 2010 comeback.

loner said...

Long day yesterday. Tip O'Neill retired in 1984.

tet said...

Well, to tell the truth, Ford was way too liberal to be a decent president. Nixon's previous handling of the economy following the draw-down in Vietnam (wage and price controls specifically) resulted in runaway inflation during the latter part of Ford's term and Carter's entire tenure. Ford was unwilling to take the kind of deregulatory action needed to deal with this (or to have the Fed raise interest rates). Total incompetence is being kind--he wrecked the US economy.

I also believe that the draw down of the US military was done during the first Bush presidency, rather than during Clinton's time. If I remember the Army cuts correctly, Bush authorized the elimination of ten divisions to Clinton's two. Remember, with the fall of the Soviet Union, it was the "end of history" and the "new world order," and standing armies were supposed to be a thing of the past.

Finally, one cannot entangle the Iranian militants with the 9/11 terrorists--doing so is the equivalent of a mullah saying that the Russian and German regimes during WW2 were indistinguishable since they were both infidels. The 9/11 attackers (as well as the first attack on the WTC) were Saudi-based members of a Sunni heretic sect. The Iranians would have executed any of them on the spot had they managed to get their hands on them.

The biggest turning point, I believe, in this period is not 1976, but the handling of the post-Soviet fall period.

Had the Bush administration had someone in Baghdad who understood Saddam and discouraged, rather than encouraged the Kuwaiti invasion, (I know it was unintentional, but the Ambassador was new to the region and didn't realize what the Iraqis meant) there would have been no First Gulf War and no US troops on holy Saudi ground. Bin Laden and his associates would not have picked the US as their target in that world, going after Israel or India instead.

The draw-down of American troops under Bush could have then been accompanied by the removal of stationed troops from Europe and Asia and the return of their own defense to the rest of NATO, the South Koreans and Israelis.

Buchanan, looking back on the situation in 1992, was absolutely, positively right. I sincerely wish his insurrection, as you term it, had worked--we'd have a better, safer world today.


Steven said...

Republican Senate leaders act like corrupt pashas that have inherited their senate seats and act as if they have no interest in defending the country.

Conservative voters don't vote for them.


comatus said...

Point of order: George Harrison did not write aobut Instant Karma. That was Lennon.

Those who do not remember the Beatles are condemned to repeat them.

Seneca the Younger said...

Those who do not remember the Beatles are condemned to repeat them.

Well, that was what I said "well, damn" about, but it was worth it to get that line.

Barry Dauphin said...

Hey StY

You got linked by Professor Reynolds. Will you now be rolling in some Instacash?

Seneca the Younger said...

Tom, I really don't think so, for much the reason I was telling a Ron Paul guy at a local street fair the other day: isolation can only work if you can actually be isolated.If this wqere the Libertarian Utopia on Mars, maybe, but from where we are on the ground right now I just don't think pulling back can work.

Andy Johnson said...

None of us operates with perfect knowledge of the present. Perfect knowledge of the future is even harder to possess.

We do know that the actions we take today will affect the future. We have some Republicans who believe that they can sacrifice today's principles for a short term gain. Ultimately every sacrifice is a betrayal of principles and corruption of values.

Our Democrat friends look to the past for Perfect Knowledge and act with absolute certainty that the future will be exactly like the past, but with the corrections added. They see the future as a recycled and improved past and not as an open and unexplored frontier where the unexpected arrives daily or hourly.

You don't find many Democrats among the entrepreneurs and sole proprietors...

Ackroyd said...

"In the mean time, the World Trade Center is bombed by Islamists the first time; two Embassies are blown up in Africa; a US warship is attacked; hundreds of Americans die."

Beg pardon: the first WTC bombing killed six; of the 212 killed in Nairobi, 200 were Kenyans; the Dar es Salaam attack killed 11 Tanzanians, and the attack on the Cole killed 17 sailors. Nowhere near "hundreds of Americans".

Seneca the Younger said...

Okay, Ackroyd, correction accepted. "Hundreds of Americans and others emplyed by the US and on US territory".

But I'm curious --- are you just being precise, or are you asserting that it's okay for al Q to kill people as long as they're not Americans?