If you pay attention to the American political scumbag carnival, you’ve probably heard of Grover Norquist. He’s the head of Americans for Tax Reform, a lobbying group known for keeping tight reins on the Republican Party through the anti-tax pledge they exact from elected officials. “The Pledge,” as it’s known, prevents Congress from reaching compromise on virtually every issue. However, Grover’s power is dwindling, as more and more lawmakers refuse his pledge. So, like a lot of white guys facing a mid-career crisis, he’s decided to go to Burning Man.
Burning Man, if you didn't know, is a celebration of absurdity, art, and self-sufficiency that occurs every year in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. So far, Norquist is behaving like a typical first-year “Burner” by telling everyone he knows about his plans to attend. With a single tweet, he attracted an avalanche of commentary. Last year, Seth Rogen told the world he was headed to Burning Man—on TV, no less—and received just a small slice of the attention won by Norquist.
I’m like a lot of people who are into Burning Man, in the sense that I groaned when I chanced upon Norquist's tweet. Aside from Rogen, celebrities tend not to announce their plans to attend, because it’s considered a faux pas to use the event for self-promotion. As LeBron James will tell you, self-aggrandizing announcements cast doubt on one’s intentions. In future communications, Grover would do well to follow the lead of this guy, who at least managed to stay off Twitter until he had a sweet picture to post.
Norquist went on to do an interview about Burning Man with the National Journal, which really ought to know better. According to the Journal, he stated: “Burning Man is a refutation of the argument that the state has a place in nature.” He also claimed that “there’s no government that organizes” it.
Burning Man, like any city or nation, requires funding and organization to function. When people buy tickets, they help to pay for the event’s needs as a price of citizenship. It’s exactly the same as a tax.
The annual event is organized by a series of departments that serve the event like a de facto government. They are managed by the Burning Man Organization, which maintains a year-round office in San Francisco and acts as an executive branch. Most of the people who work for the staff departments are unpaid volunteers, but each team requires gobs of resources in order to make the event a reality.
Burning Man’s Department of Public Works provides the event’s critical infrastructure. They institute a “City Plan,” survey street alignments, and employ an arsenal of heavy machinery to help build the art installations that Grover can’t wait to scope out. The DPW also coordinates the Playa Restoration Team that stays behind for weeks to clean the site, because the event is only allowed to re-occur if it picks up after itself.
Then there’s Gate, Perimeter, and Exodus, who manage the event’s arduous entry and exit process. They employ radar, night vision, and elbow grease to thwart stowaways and fence jumpers, who are the Burning Man equivalent of tax dodgers. Grover Norquist knows all about tax dodgers, because many of them are his biggest contributors.
The Black Rock Rangers mediate disputes between attendees, and shut down and search the city if somebody’s kid gets lost. There’s also Burning Man Information Radio, which serves as the sort of public broadcast system that Norquist’s friends love to hate.
Photo by Flickr user Jon Collier
The Emergency Services Department partners with a nearby hospital to provide paramedic and medical services. If they can address an illness or injury without shipping the patient back to Reno, their services are paid for by the ticket proceeds. Norquist should be aware that his supposed libertarian Xanadu is a proud provider of single-payer health care.
In an echo of everyone’s least favorite government agency, there’s a Department of Mutant Vehicles, which inspects and registers the event’s famed Art Cars. Without them, Burning Man would turn into a janky demolition derby. This would be bad, because nothing sucks the fun out of a fire-shooting octopus encounter like vehicular manslaughter.
There are even staff teams looking out for Grover’s beloved One Percenters, like the airport that serves the growing share of people who arrive by chartered plane.
Finally, you’ve got the actual US government, which manifests itself at Burning Man as the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM enforces the 20-page Interior Department closure order that makes the event a reality. By my count, that’s two separate governments working at once. Without either, Grover wouldn’t get to rave. He’d be forced to settle for the creepy Porcupine Festival campout in New Hampshire, which nobody on Twitter is going to give a shit about.
Norquist probably knows all of this. He’s been itching to attend Burning Man since 2012. And he’s an alum of Harvard’s Hasty Pudding society, which means he’s a nerd. I’ll bet he’s reading up on the event the way a 15-year-old devours the Harry Potter books.
Grover should expect to have a good time, though, because nerds excel at Burning Man. It’s like a political campaign: You learn a map, do a budget, and endure compatriots who use the whole thing as an excuse to binge-drink. Burning Man also celebrates recklessness, and Grover’s a proven daredevil thanks to his hard-ball debt-ceiling politics. How can any acrobat or fire spinner compete with a guy who can endanger all the world’s money?
Still, he shouldn’t stop at the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation on his way up from Reno. The locals may recall the time he helped scam Native Americans by laundering Jack Abramoff’s money. And he shouldn’t discuss his support for South African Apartheid in the 80s. Most of the people he’ll meet are California and Oregon neo-hippies, and Apartheid stuff will harsh their mellow.
He should, rather, expect a warm reception. Burning Man’s principle of radical inclusion doesn’t stop at K Street.
So here’s a personal welcome from yours truly: Welcome home, Grover! Go forth with a reckless spirit and an open heart. Seize each day, and have the time of your life.
I hope you chance upon some synthetic psychedelics. I hope you wind up lying on your back in the dust, eating peanut butter with a spoon, and watching as hallucinations of zebras and baby goats cavort against the sunrise. I even hope you trip so hard that you realize what an asshole you are.
No matter what happens, keep one thing in mind: People move heaven and earth to reach this event to test their limits, to make friends, and to challenge their preconceptions. Nobody is showing up to serve as a thin, cherry-picked rationale for your sniveling politics.
Follow Tom Berman on Twitter.
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