Grover Norquist at Burning Man: "There’s an artist inside many of us"

The anti-tax activist is learning a lot at the annual New Age desert festival--like the meaning of the word "taint"

By Elias Isquith

Published September 2, 2014 4:10PM (EDT)

Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform                                (AP/Yuri Gripas)
Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform (AP/Yuri Gripas)

As promised, anti-tax activist and unapologetic GOP partisan Grover Norquist has been to Burning Man and, according to a report in New York, he's mostly liked what he's seen.

"My take, having spent 20 hours walking the streets of this place," Norquist told New York while at the scene, "is that if your takeaway from looking at the art and the participatory effort that goes into something like this is ‘there were naked people!’ then that’s a reflection on you, not on Burning Man."

Indeed, throughout the article, the man who rose to national prominence by making Republicans "promise" not to raise taxes in any situation and dreaming aloud of drowning the government in a bathtub comes off as ecumenical in spirit, choosing to focus on those parts of Burning Man that are in-line with his version of libertarianism, and ignoring all the rest.

"If you had 500 people get together and [they did] something like this, that would be impressive,” Norquist says in reference to the sprawling desert camp. “But 70,000?” He chalks it up to humanity's capacity for spontaneous, bottom-up social cohesion and organizational innovation. "Burning Man is a bunch of people who think the government doesn’t need to be here," Norquist says.

"Nobody told anybody to do this stuff," he continues. "I mean, talk about Hayekian spontaneous order — this is, like, exhibit A."

In true Burning Man fashion, however, Norquist is making sure he doesn't spend all of his trip seeking out material for feeding his own confirmation bias. He's learning new things, too — like what a "taint" is, for example:

As we stroll past rows of parked RVs on Gold Street, we pass a large tent that advertises “Free Taint Washes." A man approaches us from inside, carrying a jug of water with a misting attachment.

“Would you like a spray?” the man asks.

“Not today,” Norquist says.

The man smiles. “Well, would you like a taint wash?”

Norquist has been at Burning Man for less than a day, but he’s already learning lots of new things — including the word taint, which, after a moment of confusion, he asks me to define. (Hmm, how to put this to the godfather of modern American conservatism?) Sheepishly, I inform him that it’s the colloquial term for the patch of skin between the genitals and the anus, properly known as the perineum. People call it the taint, I say, because it taint one part and it taint the other, either.

“Okay, I did not know that,” Norquist says. “Is that a recent slang?”

And while Norquist spends his time at Burning Man finding out interesting new bits of information like the above, the rest of us have something to learn from his experience, too — besides the unsurprising fact that he's not a fan of "Mr. Show."

"The expectation that [Burning Man's] a cross between absentminded professors and bohemians, and that’s what artists are, it’s not true," Norquist explains. "There’s an artist inside many of us that coexists with who we are,” he adds. The only question is whether Big Government will get out of our way long enough to let us see it.*

* This is a made-up quote but we really think it sounds like something Norquist would say.

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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Burning Man Grover Norquist Libertarian Mr. Show New York Taint