Justin Amash Headlines Karaoke Fundraiser for Thomas Massie

The House conservatives bring a fundraiser to libertarians’ regular Tuesday-night haunt, and raise $9K for a man unlikely to face much competition.

Justin Amash, Matt Hurtt, and Thomas Massie at a libertarians' Karaoke bar in Arlington.
National Journal
Tim Alberta
Add to Briefcase
Tim Alberta
March 12, 2014, 5:40 p.m.

(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.

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