The secrets of Grover Norquist

[I’m exploring 100 podcasts and writing what I learn. This is No. 31.]

I was listening to a conversation between Grover Norquist and Ezra Klein when the topic of Burning Man came up.

Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform, is a regular at Burning Man, where he has lectured and done stand-up comedy.

“It was great fun,” he said. “70,000 people show up in this desert that a couple of weeks before was just desert — what land looks like when the federal government runs it.”

It was at this point I really wanted Klein to jump in and say, wait a minute. That’s unfair. The federal government is to blame for a desert being a desert? And have you ever visited Yosemite, Zion, Glacier, the Everglades, Denali, Yellowstone or any of the many beautiful national parks protected and maintained by the federal government?

But Klein did not butt in. He let Norquist finish his thought.

“It’s dusty and it’s desert and there’s nothing there and there are no animals except some crustacean that lives under the ground that shows up every 100 years or so,” Norquist continued.

As Norquist went on praising the Libertarian ideal of “Hayekian spontaneous order” at Burning Man, I realized that Klein hadn’t interrupted Norquist at all throughout the full interview. And we were approaching 90 minutes.

This isn’t supposed to happen in 2016. We’re supposed to be a culture of sound bites and crossfires and 140 characters and short attention spans.

But here was a progressive 31-year-old California native editor of and a 59-year-old Pennsylvania native NRA board member having a substantive and civil conversation on immigration reform, tax policy and even book recommendations and murder mysteries. And people took note.

“This is an interview that might make some of you mad, which I think is a good thing actually,” Klein said in introducing the episode. “Whether you’re on the left or the right you should understand how Grover Norquist thinks. He’s an important player in this town. And I’m grateful to him for taking so much time to let us into his worldview.”

Prior to this podcast, I knew almost nothing about Norquist, other than being vaguely aware of the “no-tax pledge” he asks Republicans to sign.

But I learned and mulled over a lot of issues over an hour and a half, including the “effective” corporate tax rate and why party polarization might not be so bad.

I’ve written about this before, but I think it bears repeating: The most thoughtful, respectful and interesting discussions concerning divisive topics are on podcasts right now.

I was particularly surprised by the fact that Norquist seemed eager to explain his political tactics to Klein. As he talked about exactly how he orchestrates weekly meetings with the “center-right coalition,” I couldn’t believe he was opening up his playbook for all to see.

Why would he tip his hand to listeners who are majority left-leaning? Shouldn’t he want to keep it quiet and hidden away?

Is it ego that makes him share? Is it like a super villain who can’t help but brag about his master plan? Or is he just so supremely confident in his ability that he doesn’t think the other side can execute like he can?

Maybe it’s all of that, maybe it’s none of it. But I have another theory.

I think we’re sick of shouting at the other side on social media. So when someone actually shows patience and willingness to listen — and doesn’t interrupt — we’re willing to share anything that shows our true self.

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