For the first time since 1978, Frank Wolf’s name will not appear on the November ballot in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District (CD).
The Republic will be the poorer for that.
Virginia’s 10th CD includes territory familiar to James Madison. And it’s not hard to imagine the Father of the Constitution and Bill of Rights taking deep satisfaction from the public career of a fellow Virginian, a man of integrity who bent every effort to defend human rights, especially for the defenseless. That advocacy was the hallmark of Wolf’s lengthy congressional career, which, like my old friend Henry Hyde’s, is a powerful argument against term limits.
When the defense of religious freedom and other basic human rights meant confronting Soviet power, even when foreign policy “realists” objected, Wolf was there.
When the defense of religious freedom meant confronting Islamist and jihadist terrorists in the face of the same objections from the same unrealistic realists, Wolf was there.
When genocide was going on in Sudan and Washington preferred to look away, Wolf forced his governmental colleagues to pay attention.
When most of official Washington ignored the plight of persecuted Christians whose communities could trace their origins virtually to apostolic times, Wolf was their advocate – challenging both Congress and the Obama administration – and cited as his rationale William Wilberforce’s 1789 speech in Parliament against the slave trade: “Having heard all of this, you may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say that you did not know.”
Wolf also understood that consistency in human rights work meant being a pro-life advocate. Like the late Richard John Neuhaus, whose work he admired, Wolf saw the pro-life movement as the natural heir to the U.S. civil rights movement and pro-life advocacy here at home as the natural complement to work in defense of people oppressed by authoritarian and totalitarian regimes abroad. That an evangelical Protestant understood this – and acted on it – when so many Catholic members of Congress did not is cause for Catholic reflection – and repentance.
Wolf did his chores for Virginia’s 10th CD; he didn’t get re-elected 16 times by ignoring the home front. But in the 30 years I’ve known him, I’ve always had the impression that it was his advocacy for those who were both persecuted and voiceless that kept him in the game and offered him the deepest satisfaction in his public service.
And in the case of this Christian gentleman, I couldn’t help but think that the deepest source of Wolf’s concern for the persecuted was the truth the Vulgate Bible taught best in Latin: “Caritas… Christi urget nos” – “The love of Christ impels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14).
He’d dismiss the comparison out of hand, but I thought of Wolf this past summer when I read Fred Kaplan’s “John Quincy Adams: American Visionary.” True, Wolf did not spring from the intellectual and political aristocracy of the American Founding. Nor did he serve as ambassador, senator, secretary of state and president. Nor is he a crusty curmudgeon like the Adams portrayed brilliantly by Anthony Hopkins in the film “Amistad.”
A Moral Reference Point
But like Adams, Wolf brought distinction to the U.S. House of Representatives rather than taking distinction from it. Like Adams, Wolf made a sometimes unpopular moral cause the centerpiece of his service in the people’s House. And also like Adams, Wolf drew the affection and respect of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, who know that the House is losing one of its unsullied moral reference points when Wolf retires.
These days, “public service” is too often a matter of incantation rather than fact, as public office has become an expression of ego rather than of conviction. But for the past 34 years, the people of Virginia’s 10th CD, and indeed the people of the U.S., have had a true public servant in Wolf, whose convictions graced the office he held and ennobled the legislative body in which he served.[hr] George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.