FEW CAMPUS groups manage to defeat their own causes more spectacularly than the Harvard-Radcliffe Conservative Club.
Last spring, the club attempted to counter a groundswell of anti-apartheid activism by holding a private reception for a representative of the Pretoria government.
Several hundred uninvited guests demonstrated outside Lowell House, disrupting the etiquette of the afternoon and temporarily preventing the South African from excusing himself. Critics rightly protested that the closed event contributed nothing to the open exchange of ideas. The reception inflamed sentiment for divestment and discredited its hosts--along with a few activists.
More recently, the student group has turned its attentions to educating people about the dangers of AIDS. Earlier this month, the Conservative Club sponsored a speech by Paul Cameron, a Nebraska psychologist and self-professed authority on the disease. Asserting that "more people on this campus will die from homosexuality than anything else short of thermonuclear war," Cameron called for an immediate quarantine of all gays, prostitutes, and intravenous drug users whose blood carries the virus linked to AIDS.
"It's time to get the liberals to start thinking about their fannies and stop thinking about civil rights," he said. "I'm talking about quarantining a half-million, a million, even a million and a half people. At some point a quarantine will no longer appear possible. Then China's solution will enter the public's consideration."
"What is 'China's solution?'" a member of the audience asked.
"Anyone caught in a homosexual act is summarily executed," Cameron replied.
ASIDE FROM the patent bigotry of his remarks, Cameron demonstrated a reckless disregard for the medical realities of the disease. Research indicates that AIDS can only be transmitted by sexual contact, use of contaminated hypodermic needles, and transfusions of blood containing the virus. Moreover, not everyone who carries the AIDS virus develops symptoms.
The only highly contagious feature of AIDS is the epidemic of fear and misinformation sweeping the nation. By hosting Cameron's appearance, the Conservative Club became a willing and deliberate carrier of that destructive contagion.
Paul Cameron's maniacal rantings understandably prompted thoughtful students to wring their hands and shake their fists. A flood of expletives no doubt rushed into the minds of members of the Gay and Lesbian Students Association.
A few choice words about the Conservative Club's activities occurred here as well--contemptible, outrageous, inflammatory, divisive, and downright dangerous, to cite a few.
But after a moment's reflection, most of these epithets seemed too severe for a group that defies serious criticism. Only one word fit perfectly: pathetic.