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In-Your-Face and On the Right

By Ira E. Stoll

Barrels of ink have already been spilled by and about self-described "arch right-winger" Robert K. Wasinger'94.

He's been variously attacked and explained by liberals as "our resident psychoanalyst," a "scared" purveyor of "hate speech," "Misinformation" and "bigotry."

Not just students, but tenured professors have participated in the vigorous efforts to understand.

"Why are these folks so angry?" wondered Plummer Professor of Christian Morals Peter J. Gomes shortly after Wasinger and his colleagues at the conservative campus magazine Peninsula released a 56-page special issue on the evils of homosexuality. "Why are they so scared?"

All of the questions and explanation-making might have been cut short, however, if there had been wider dissemination of some basic facts about Wasinger's life and family in his hometown of Manhattan, Kansas.

"I've always been an arch rightwinger," Wasinger says. When he was 10, his mom was president of the local right-to-life group, and she took him along to prayer vigils and protests at abortion clinics.

"I was brought up in a solid family with conservative values," Wasinger says. A Catholic who converted from Protestantism just before junior year at Harvard after reading Augustine's Confessions in a Core class (the Core can do wonders), he goes to mass every day.

If you were the oldest of five sons in the Wasinger family, you too might be one of the campus's most outspoken and reviled conservatives.

What about youthful rebellion? "I don't think the thought has ever crossed his mind," says fellow Kansan and conservative activist Christopher Brown "94, who notes that at Harvard, there is plenty of liberalism to rebel against.

Consider it rebellion or consider it reaction, but there is no question that Wasinger had made his mark over four years on campus.

He was a council member of Peninsula. He was president of the Association Against Learning in the Absence of Religion and Morality (AALARM). He was co-founder of Concerned Christians at Harvard, which sought to remove Gomes from his post as Plummer professor and minister in the Memorial Church because of his preaching that homosexuality was compatible with Christianity.

Holy War

Waging war conservatism has been Wasinger's primary Harvard activity. He is an non-honors economics concentrator who acknowledge that "my extracurricular has been my academics." Aside from the three far-right wing groups, his other significant extracurricular association has been as a member of the more mainstream Harvard-Radcliffe Republican Club.

He served a brief stint as the representative of Native Americans on the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, but the main fruit of his service there was an article by Wasinger that appeared in Peninsula.

As Wasinger recognizes, Harvard is "a pretty liberal place and not exactly the most receptive to my ideas."

Liberals collect stories about Wasinger. Julie R. Cooper '94, an editor of the liberal monthly Perspective who lived in Wasinger's Thayer Hall entryway in their first year, recalls that on the eve of the Persian Gulf War, Wasinger had a message board on the door to his room that read, "Give war a chance, we've tried peace long enough."

When a friend of Cooper's tore down the message board, "it wasn't a politically motivated incident, it was just drunken stupidity," Cooper says. But she says Wasinger interpreted the act as politically motivated and went to the proctor to complain.

Wasinger, who still has the message board in question, maintains that the "petty vandalism" was politically motivated, and says the messages on the board related to AALARM and "something about silence and death."

Joshua L. Oppenheimer '96, a founder of the Association for the Absence of Rabid Moralism (AFARM)--a direct response to AALARM--remembers seeing Wasinger's not-so-Christian behavior in line in the Eliot House dining hall. When Wasinger's friend dropped a spoon, Wasinger kicked it to a dining services worker to pick up off the floor, Oppenheimer says, and the worker couldn't believe it.

"He gave her the gift of humiliation so that she could find righteousness," Oppenheimer says with heavy sarcasm.

Wasinger denies the story.

By Wasinger's own account, he's been booed and stared at in dining halls, subjected to 14 or 15 harassing phone calls a night at times and pilloried in the press. While Wasinger claims that "there is a sizable minority of people who are very silent but agree with Peninsula," even he acknowledges that "it's nowhere near a majority."

Wasinger himself would never be mistaken for a member of any Nixonian silent majority.

"Rob thrives on confrontation, on the thrill of the fight," says his friend Brown. "Rob likes to get it out there in print."

Another friend, Thomas E. Woods '94, attests to Wasinger's fame--or infamy--by saying, "I got my reputation as the guy who hangs around Rob Wasinger."

The campus press has paid attention, as have the national media, drawn by his strident, eminently quotable rhetoric.

For example, Wasinger calls the pro-choice movement "a culture of death that seeks to destroy life at every conceivable opportunity...nothing less than the ideological descendants of the pro-slavery people."

And Gomes, who announced he was gay at a rally held to denounce the Peninsula issue on homosexuality, is "one of the more wicked men in the University" when seen through Wasinger-colored glasses.

"He's leading his flock into the pit," Wasinger says.

The Black Students Association is "just...another political hack group," he says.

And homosexuals? This is the man who wrote in Peninsula that he was "homoelemontic" that he pitied gays because they "can't be happy". The Supposedly unhappy ones were none the happier for Wasinger's sympathy.

The conservatism may have been imbibed together with his mother's milk, but Wasinger came into his own at Harvard. At public school in Kansas, he was quit and kept a low profile, and in two years at Deerfield Academy he concentrated on academics and getting into Harvard.

The Catholicism emerged at Harvard as well. "It was very much an intellectual decision that was motivated by faith," says Wasinger who says his Protestant parents "respect my decision."

Underneath it all, according to his wife Meghan Wasinger, Rob is "a very sweet man."

Yes, that's right. His wife, Wasinger was married in November and Meghan, who was attracted to Rob's "strong sense of morals," is expecting a child in early September.

Meghan, a student at Thomas Moore College in Merrimac, N.H., is the sister of Peninsula founder Sean McLaughlin. According to Wasinger, she is "the greatest girl in the world."

They go to the beach together and out to dinner and to the movies and sometimes even to prayer vigils outside abortion clinics.

After graduation, Wasinger plans to spend the summer relaxing on Cape Cod and preparing for the arrival of his son. (He says he turned down an offer to work in New York for a company that participated in Harvard's on-campus recruiting program.) He's not sure what his eventual career will be, but, he says, his family will come first.

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