When former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost his primary election, the Washington punditocracy was stunned. A flurry of breathless stories and commentary followed seeking to determine and to explain what the loss portends for public policy and for the 2014 mid-term elections. Since Cantor’s opponent, David Brat, a college economics professor and a Tea Party conservative, ran against what he calls “amnesty” in comprehensive immigration reform, conventional wisdom says immigration reform cannot pass during this Congress. At the same time, it seems that Cantor, busy with the responsibilities of national leadership, failed to stay in touch with his constituents. I say Cantor’s loss is a function of Karma.
I am not a Buddhist, but the concept that derives from eastern religions, in its most basic sense, is an economical way to think about the relationship between act and consequence, cause and effect. Karma means “act.” Good consequences come from good acts; bad consequences from bad acts. Karma reminds us that the things we do – the good, the bad, and the ugly – thinking it will have a negative effect on someone else will have a negative effect on us.
Karma says: “you reap what you sow.” It is akin to the wisdom found in Proverbs 26:27 – “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.” (English Standard Version) The late gospel singer Mahalia Jackson echoed the same principle when she said: “If you dig a ditch you better dig two ’cause the trap you set just may be for you.” It is a more specific understanding of the African-American wisdom: “The Lord don’t like ugly.”
Inauguration night 2009, while President and Mrs. Obama were dancing to the song “At Last”, Eric Cantor along with other GOP leaders of the House and the Senate plotted against the president and against the American people by making a pact not to cooperate with him on anything.
Those present at the conspiratorial dinner included: Frank Luntz, Newt Gingrich, Fred Barnes, US Representatives Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan, Pete Sessions, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Hoekstra, Dan Lungren, Senators Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl, Tom Coburn, John Ensign, and Bob Corker. Of the twelve elected officials, half, counting Cantor, are out of office and Tom Coburn plans to leave before his term is over. Newt Gingrich ran unsuccessfully for president and Paul Ryan running on the ticket with Mitt Romney was defeated by the Obama/Biden ticket.
Their plan to make President Obama a one term president did not work. Today, his poll numbers are low, but the public approval of Congress is even lower. The Republican Party continues its decline in public opinion. There is no supernatural mystery, no inexplicable magic at work. We fall into the ditches we dig for others because of ignorance. We are deluded by the delusion that we are defined by the boundaries of our own skin called by our own proper name. We fail to see that, in a spiritual sense, we are connected.
We are one, connected through the breath of life. This is why we see some version of the Golden Rule in most spiritual traditions. We are instructed to do unto other as we would have them do to us because they are us. When Cantor and the other conspirators decided that they would not cooperate with the president on anything, they made a decision against their own constituents and against themselves. Rather than thinking about how they could work with the president toward the best interests of ordinary people who put both him and them in power, they only thought about the power.
At this moment, they were out of touch with We the People. They sowed the seeds on inauguration night 2009 that would yield a bitter fruit for them on future election nights. For Newt Gingrich the crop came in during the GOP presidential primary. For Paul Ryan it come in on election night 2012. For Eric Cantor it was the Virginia primary 2014. The conspirators intended to use We the People as a mean to their ends of holding power and forgot that the power ought to be a means to the end of doing what is best for We the People. This means finding ways to cooperate, compromise and solve the various problems facing this country and this world.
Further, the inauguration night conspirators demonstrated a profound disregard for the meaning of elections. When my son and daughter were children, I took them with me to vote. Before we went to the polling place I reminded them that somebody died so that we could have the right to vote. This summer is the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the summer when young people, including young European-Americans traveled south to help register African-Americans disenfranchised by American apartheid. On June 21st, 1964, three civil rights workers – James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner – went missing. On August 4, 1964, their tortured, murdered bodies were found. They died so that people in Mississippi could have the right to vote.
I remember as a college student hearing Fannie Lou Hamer talk about being jailed and beaten because she had the temerity to try to register to vote. Her beating was so severe that she never fully recovered. All this was after a decades long struggle for women to get the vote and after a bloody, too too bloody civil war to end slavery and after the passage of constitutional amendments that gave equal protection of the law to all citizens and the right to vote to African-American men.
We the People hold the power, and in a representative democracy, in a republic, we lend that power to elected officials on Election Day. This is a sacred trust. This means that we all have a duty to respect election results, and we all ought to work together to make this a more perfect union. Cantor and the other conspirators did not respect the millions of people who voted for President Obama, thus they disrespected their own constituents.
However, the good news about Karma is that just as bad follows bad, good follows good. We always have the free will to make a new, a better decision. Now that Cantor has resigned as Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy has been elected by GOP House members to fill that position. I hope that McCarthy will realize that the 2009 inauguration night conspiracy was a shameful episode that was harmful to the nation. I hope he realizes that history is watching and that leaders ought to use the power we lend to them for the common good.
There is much yet for this Congress to do. Comprehensive immigration reform is one of the most important. If congress members use the Cantor defeat as a reason for not acting on this issue, shame on them. And Karma will not be denied her due.
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.