(NOTE FROM THE EDITORS: In the print version of this story, the headline and photograph left the impression with some readers that Rep. Justin Amash was drinking alcohol at a fundraiser. As the story noted, the congressman was drinking only water and did not participate in the karaoke event. We apologize for the confusion.)
Just minutes after he strokes a $100 check to the campaign of Rep. Thomas Massie, a husky, balding, middle-aged man named Norm Singleton is on stage shrieking the lyrics to Eminem.
I've created a monster, 'cause nobody wants to see Marshall no more they want Shady I'm chopped liver, well if you want Shady this is what I'll give ya, a little bit of weed mixed with some hard liquor …
Singleton isn't much of a singer (or rapper). In fact, his shrill voice is downright disturbing. But nobody minds. There's only one requirement for attending the weekly Liberty Karaoke event at O'Sullivan's Irish Pub in Arlington: You must be a "defender of liberty." And Singleton, who worked for 15 years for then-Rep. Ron Paul, qualifies.
"We love Norm," says Matt Hurtt, the 26-year-old libertarian activist who organizes Liberty Karaoke, after Singleton drops off the check.
Hurtt explains that a group of local libertarians, most of them in their 20s or 30s, attend this every-Tuesday event that was organized several years ago. Normally, he says, between 20 and 60 people show up. Tonight there are more than 100, but it's not your typical Liberty Karaoke event. Instead, Hurtt has teamed with the Tea Party Express to transform this affair into a fundraiser for Massie, the freshman lawmaker from Kentucky who ran for Congress as a Ron Paul acolyte.
It's obvious, however, that not everyone is here to see Massie. Plenty of attendees came to hear from (and snap selfies with) Rep. Justin Amash, who earns a thundering ovation when he takes the stage to introduce Massie, a member of his by-invitation-only conservatives group known as the House Liberty Caucus.
"Thomas Massie has been a real godsend to me," Amash says, noting how he was "lonely" during the last Congress because Paul spent much of his time on the presidential campaign trail. The Michigander said he felt like the lone libertarian voice in the House. And then, last January, Massie arrived.
"He's principled, he's honest, he believes in liberty, and he's as smart as they come," Amash says of Massie. "We need more people who can carry the torch of liberty."
Massie runs with that message, albeit less artfully, after bounding onto the stage and accepting a $2,500 check from the Tea Party Express. He tells the crowd that with several dozen House members leaving Congress this year, it's up to these grassroots activists—and outside groups like the Tea Party Express—to bring more libertarian-minded lawmakers to Washington.
"There are 36 congressmen that are retiring, resigning, or running for Senate—or got caught buying cocaine," Massie says, eliciting nervous laughter from the crowd for his reference to Trey Radel.
"It's really important to get people here who have a spine," Massie tells the crowd. "This is the thing that surprised me about congressmen: They will lie to you. They will get squishy—we call it 'jelly legs'—and tell you they're going to vote one way, and they get in there and vote differently."
The Kentucky freshman promises he's not "squishy." In fact, he tells the crowd, his voting record prompted a high-profile member of the business community several months ago to explore a primary campaign against him. But after a "moneybomb" was organized on Massie's behalf, and donated to by the likes of Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, the prospective challenger was "scared out of the race."
This draws a rousing ovation from the activists, some of whom may be second-guessing their donations to Massie after realizing he won't face a primary opponent or serious general-election competition this year in his ruby-red district.
The crowd grows restless as Massie's homily drags on. They are happy to hear from him, but more excited about what comes next. When the lawmaker finally finishes, the liberty-lovers roar in approval—and then race to submit their karaoke songs to the queue.
The festivities kick off with the sounds of Sam Marsh, the enormous, bearded DJ of Liberty Karaoke. (Marsh boasts of being an original member of the Ron Paul Revolution, voting for his libertarian line in the 1988 presidential election.) Before long, the bar is booming with everything from Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" to Bonnie Raitt's "Something to Talk About." Young libertarians crush double shots of clear liquor before taking the stage for awkward duets, shouting-out the House members, who pretend not to hear.
To the chagrin of attendees, two of the only people who decline to participate in the musical revelry were Amash and Massie. They have different excuses. Amash says his musical talents are limited, and seems content to watch other people embarrass themselves. (Plus, he is drinking water, and appears to lack the liquid courage often required to perform in such a venue.)
Massie, on the other hand, is enjoying an IPA and seems eager to sing. But something is holding him back. He talks about wanting to bust out his banjo (he's been playing for years) and even shares his go-to karaoke tune ("Country Boy Can Survive"). Ultimately, Massie acknowledges, his wife advised him against singing.
The crowd is disappointed, but it hardly matters. When the dust settles, Massie has raised nearly $4,000 from 80 individual donors. That, combined with the $2,500 contribution from the Tea Party Express and a surprise $2,600 commitment from Amash's PAC, puts Massie's take at about $9,000.
Not bad for a night of drunken karaoke.
This article appears in the March 13, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.