By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The selection of conservative Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III to give the University of Virginia's commencement address has irritated a commentator or two in Charlottesville. It has not caused a national stir, like the online efforts of conservative Catholics to bar President Obama from Notre Dame, but there is time yet for liberals to embarrass ourselves.
Having experienced the giddy and sultry delights of a graduation spring at Mr. Jefferson's University, I believe that I am safe in saying that the words of the commencement speaker will be among the last things remembered about the occasion by the graduates on the Lawn. And that is probably true of the kids at Notre Dame.
They will be anxious about starting their careers in the midst of a recession; drinking in, one last time, the idyllic setting, looking for sweethearts and parents in the crowd, and hoping that Wilkinson and Obama will have a few funny lines, and keep the promise with which all such speakers begin their talks—to be brief.
Wilkinson is a graduate of the University. He has taught there too. He will probably have the good sense to know that the day is not about him, and get on with a joke and get offstage quickly. And in between, he might have something interesting to say.
The judge is a principled conservative, and something of a libertarian. His writings on diversity and gay rights have attracted the Left's suspicion but, in both cases, as I read him, Wilkinson mainly objects to the continuing trend in American life to make everything ... well ... a federal case.
He is, in short, a Jeffersonian—inclined to trust the people to muddle along and eventually make the right decision, whether on affirmative action or gay marriage or other social issues. He doesn't much like lawyers who take everything to court, and judges who take the Constitution and bend it for their own aims.
He's no bigot. For a running dog capitalist old white guy Southern tool of the Establishment (I joke), Wilkinson has a live-and-let-live approach to life. He writes eloquently of the rights of gay people to live in the warmth of loving relationships, and of the righteousness of our goal of a colorblind society.
Where Wilkinson irritates the Left, no doubt, is in the amount of time, and the years of suffering, he is willing to consign to the victims of prejudice while The People muddle through. Sometimes courts have to act. (It's not Heaven, it's Iowa!) Yet here is where liberals, now that they control the levers of government, would be wise to listen. With power comes arrogance, and corruption. The impulse to make things right, while noble, can, over time, threaten the rights we cherish.
To be reminded of that, on the Lawn, by a sincere Jeffersonian, like Wilkinson, with a warm heart and a twinkle in his eye, is not such a bad thing.
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