What Grover Norquist Learned at Burning Man

The anti-tax activist came away from the Nevada desert party with an appreciation for its demand for "radical self-reliance."

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Grover Norquist has survived his first Burning Man, and he had a ball.

The conservative activist known for his crusade against higher taxes trekked out to the weeklong party in the Nevada desert, taking the metaphor of the "fish out of water" almost too literally.

Norquist came away impressed with the Burning Man ethos of "radical self-reliance," comparing it favorably to his notions of Woodstock in a rambling essay he wrote for The Guardian.

Burning Man is greater than I had ever imagined. I have been to large demonstrations in favor of the environment, and the trash left behind is knee-deep. At Burning Man, you are hard-pressed to find a cigarette butt on the ground. There are no trash bins. Participants carry it in, and they carry it out."

Norquist steers clear of drawing any definitive political conclusions about the cast of characters at Burning Man, an arts festival that began in 1986 – just about the same time Norquist began collecting Republican signatures for his now-famous Taxpayer Protection Pledge. But he told New York Magazine's Kevin Roose that the culture, or counter-culture, in Black Rock fits neatly with a small-government ideology.

Burning Man is a bunch of people who think the government doesn’t need to be here,” he says. “Nobody told anybody to do this stuff. I mean, talk about Hayekian spontaneous order — this is, like, exhibit A.”

Norquist writes in The Guardian that the experience "toughens everyone up," and as Grover typically does, he made sure to get in a couple jabs at liberals.

Some self-professed 'progressives' whined at the thought of my attending what they believed was a ghetto for liberal hippies. Yes, there was a gentleman who skateboarded without elbow or kneepads – or any knickers whatsover. Yes, I rode in cars dressed-up as cats, bees and spiders; I watched trucks carrying pirate ships and 30 dancers. I drank absinthe. But anyone complaining about a Washington wonk like me at Burning Man is not a Burner himself: The first principle of Burning Man is 'radical inclusiveness', which pretty much rules out the nobody-here-but-us liberals 'gated community' nonsense."

(Norquist did learn a couple other things about sensitive parts of the human anatomy, but we'll let NYMag explain that.)

It's not clear if Norquist really leaned into his libertarian side and dabbled with any of the recreational drugs available at Burning Man. But he did appear to get out of his element a bit, as he documented during his trip on Twitter.

And of course, he did manage to sign up a couple more people for the Pledge.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.