It was with great sadness that I read today’s e-mail from Rep. Frank Wolf’s office announcing that the 17-term Virginia Republican congressman will not run for reelection in 2014.
For one thing, I’m losing my congressman, someone who cared more about what his constituents thought than what a self-appointed leader of conservatism did. He was what we want in our representatives: knowledgeable, conscientious and unfailingly polite. And in Burkean fashion, when his constituents didn’t care about an issue or disagreed with him, he offered his best judgment on the matter, as he believed he was obligated to do. You don’t get many plaudits for devoting oneself to foreign policy, yet that is where he left his biggest mark.
On another level, it is ironic and bittersweet that the quintessential GOP moderate who labored for half a loaf when a full one was unavailable should leave at a time when the all-or-nothing crowd is in decline (we hope). He took up the cause of good governance when it was nothing but a headache. Now, assuming wiser heads prevail going forward, he won’t get to enjoy the fruits of his efforts.
But unlike any other congressman, with the exception of the late California congressman Tom Lantos, Wolf is going to be missed in places like Tehran, Cairo, Russia and China — not by the leaders, to be sure, but by dissidents, democracy advocates, oppressed and suppressed peoples and those fighting for religious freedom. Human rights and the advancement of liberty energized him and are where he made a difference, both in pushing the U.S. government to act in defense of human rights and in exposing the nefarious behavior of despots. Religious liberty, human trafficking and subjugation of women were only a few of the issues he took on. He didn’t care if the oppressive regime was pro-American; he, unlike many human rights organizations, played no favorites.
Josh Block, a Democrat and long-time pro-Israel advocate, told me, “Frank Wolf has been a consistent and powerful voice speaking out in support of a strong America, assertive and acting as the leader of the free world. Regardless of party, Americans should applaud the inspiration of Congressman Wolf, who has never forgotten that throughout the world those who seek liberty, freedom and tolerance look to America, and that what makes this country great is our answer to their call.”
If you fear the cause of human rights has been set back by the current U.S. administration, wait until there’s no Frank Wolf in the House. Isolationism is the flavor of the month in some quarters, with the administration and a good number of lawmakers unmoved to action even by 100,000 dead in Syria.
We hope others in elected office take up the cudgel. To our delight, however, he let it be known that he is not yet finished with his human rights mission. The e-mail included this: “As a follower of Jesus, I am called to work for justice and reconciliation, and to be an advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves. I plan to focus my future work on human rights and religious freedom – both domestic and international – as well as matters of the culture and the American family. ”
Whether he acts on his own or within an existing organization, he’ll be a breath of fresh air and bring much-needed clarity to the human rights struggle. His unceasing decency and even-handedness is essential to the cause of human rights.
No one is irreplaceable, as they say. But Frank Wolf’s voice in the House for the oppressed will be dearly missed. Let’s hope he is as effective out of Congress as he was in it.