(DATELINE: BLACK ROCK CITY, NV)
For the second year in a row, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, appeared at Burning Man. In addition to doing a six minute stand-up comedy routine at the Steampunk Saloon, (“Bourbon, neat, no ice. Certainly no water. I never drink water; Dick Cheney tortures people with it and it gives it an awkward aftertaste.) Grover took questions for two hours on Friday, September 4th at Palenque Norte (a theme camp focused on the use of psychedelics for consciousness expansion located at 9:15 and Donniker).
The session was moderated by John Gilmore of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
A partial transcript of the portion of the Q&A focused on Third Parties follows:
Gilmore: How many people have questions for Grover? Why don’t we start with the guy on the right?
Buchman: I am not a, “Guy on the right” . . .
Buchman: . . . I am a Libertarian, was chair of the platform committee, ran for the US Congress as a Libertarian, I am going to write about this on Independent Political Report dot com. So Grover, voting does two things, I think. One is that it helps somebody win, the other is a communication function. It sends a message about what values you have and what you believe in. So what would you say to people here who might be inclined to vote for the Green Party or the Libertarian Party? Can you address the “Wasted Vote Syndrome?” Because to me it looks like voting for George Bush, or any other Republican, is a waste in terms of moving us toward Liberty.
Norquist: That is always a very interesting question. It is a question that people on the Right and on the Left . . . . Ralph Nader is a good friend and he took a lot of flak for running an educational campaign. I am glad to hear that you work with the Libertarian Party. I love the Libertarians. I think they overstate the case for a central government, but otherwise. . .
Buchman: Do you vote Libertarian Grover?
Norquist: I do if the two candidates running are not close. Yes. For that purpose to send a message and say, “Hey, there are other people who have a more dramatic pro-liberty position than Republicans tend to think that they do. I would suggest, right or left, if you are in Rhode Island and you are progressive, and the Ds are going to win anyway, and you want to send a signal on the environment or corporate governance, Ralph Nader sort of thing – then that is helpful and it is not a wasted vote at all. I know in Nevada once Chuck Muth organized where the Republicans agreed to stay out of a couple of state legislative races completely so that Libertarians had a chance to win those, they were hopeless districts, they were not competitive districts, in which case the Libertarians said, “We will not run four guys in very close races where five percent Libertarian would cost the Republican the seat.” I think that kind of discussion – because if you are the Libertarian or the Green Party candidate running against one person, your ability to message is much greater than if you are the third wheel. “It is me or the D,” or “It’s me or the R.” Now you have to listen to me; I have to be in the debates. It is just the two of us. I am not the third candidate; I am not “the other party.” So I think that message sending can be very helpful. But I think in close races . . . The two parties . . .
The Republican and Democratic Parties used to be regional parties. All you knew about a Republican for much of the past 100 plus years is that they were born north of the Mason-Dixon Line. You had no idea whether they wanted higher taxes or lower taxes, or more wars or less wars. They were from the North; they were not from the South. They you had all of these little old ladies in Mississippi who agreed with Ronald Reagan on everything but who voted for George McGovern because Sherman had been unpleasant to Atlanta recently. So you had these Legacy Issues that people were voting on that made them regional parties. So everything was bipartisan in Washington, DC in the 1950s. The liberal Republicans and the liberal Democrats would get together to fight the conservative Republicans and the conservative Democrats. So when you had Left-Right fights, they were always bipartisan because you had liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. During Reagan’s political lifetime, the two parties have largely separated themselves out. If you have a more limited view of what the government should be able to do, you are an R; if you have a more expansive view of the role of government, you are a D. There is not a D in the House and Senate who will not raise taxes; not one and there are only one or two Rs who would raise taxes – and I am going after them. We have got most of them over where they will divide on a mega-issue. There are other issues. I do a lot of criminal justice reform where we work with the NAACP and the ACLU to reduce the number of crimes that exist, the amount of time that people are put into prison, and to discuss whether some things should actually be crimes at all. That does not fit into the mega-issues that divide the two parties, so I can work with Cory Booker on that issue very comfortably. So there are side issues – like fighting asset forfeiture. Where the cops come and steal your car because your car was a criminal. Or somebody did something illegal in your hotel, so they take your hotel. Or somebody rented your car and did something that was a crime in your car and your car has been arrested. Bad car. And you do not get it back. Nobody has to be convicted of anything for these things to happen; you just have to be arrested. So there we are getting some Left-Right cooperation. Also some R-D opposition depending on how much you like the cops and prosecutors in your neighborhood.
So, the two parties do matter more than they used to. Neither is hard-left nor hard-right; neither is perfect on everything you want. But I think there are pretty substantial differences between them.
Buchman: Can I ask a quick follow-up? Very short.
Buchman: What do you feel about having a third or fourth candidate in the Presidential Debates?
Norquist: That is an interesting question because you have a bunch of government monopolies in the three networks. Oligopolies. There is limited bandwidth and they . . . less so now that we have cable . . . and they make these decisions about who gets to be in or not. It’s tough.
Buchman: It is the Commission on Presidential Debates which is Republicans and Democrats who make that decision.
Norquist: Two guys get together to exclude the third one. It doesn’t sound pretty, but I am not sure how you fix it.
. . .
Burner: “Right now we have a left and right system.”
Norquist: I think you have a Left-Right System on the mega issues of the size of government and bipartisan opportunistic reform collations where that is possible. We are working on a campaign to end sugar subsidies. I know Ralph Nader and a lot of his guys will be supportive of that, and then there will be people who like the Everglades, or something, and they will be against sugar subsidies because of a swamp – I think that is an interesting reason. So there will be lots of different people with lots of different reasons for being against the United States having sugar cost three times of what it costs in other countries, which is lousy for poor people – which gets to the question of, “What does the government do to screw poor people?” Well, when you raise the price of food on them that is not very helpful. Those are some opportunities.
In a 51 percent wins the vote, you are going to end up with two parties. You may get a Third Party but they will get melded back in.
Burner: Is it possible to have a Third Party in this country?
Norquist: It is possible to start them, and then if you are really successful Microsoft will buy you out. By that, I mean that one of the other two parties will see your success and they will go, “Us too.” You will get absorbed. The Prohibition Party, the TEA Party, the environmental movement, the Bull Moose Party – when somebody has an interesting idea, enough to create a Third Party, the other two guys go, “Could we get a piece of that?” and if they can; they do. If it’s a lousy idea, nobody will, but if it is a good idea, someone will steal it.
Burner: So then Trump versus Bernie? So who in the hell is our goddamn President?
Norquist: Then you say, focus on getting the Speakership of the House and run the country from there.
(END of transcription.)
Grover Norquist wrote about his experience at Burning Man 2014 in an article titled: “My first Burning Man: confessions of a conservative from Washington,” published by The Guardian, and available HERE.
On an unrelated note: Burning Man: The Musical is also apparently in production.
(PHOTO shows from left to right – Grover Norquist and John Gilmore seated; Salt Lake City attorney Larry Long standing at the mic, and an unknown burner seated to his left. Photo by Joe Buchman.)