Saturday, January 01, 2005

REFERENCE -- An Interview with David Strom, President, Taxpayers League of Minnesota

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:00 AM |  

David Strom, President, Taxpayers League of MinnesotaCW: Thanks for taking the time today, David. I’m kind of an ESPN fan, but I’m not a big Budweiser drinker, so let’s just say you’re on the “Lennie’s Honey Weiss Hot Seat. “

Strom: All right. [Laughs.]

CW: You’re one of those people, David that just sort of dropped into dropped into Minnesotan’s consciousness along with the Taxpayer’s League, but there was a David Strom well before there was a Tax Payers League.

Strom: Well before . . .

CW: You did your undergraduate studies at the Wellstonian Mecca, Carleton College, during the Reagan Era . . .

Strom: Yup . . .

CW: You’ve described yourself in those days as “shy,” “a soft vague socialist” and a “total intellectual geek” that studied political philosophy, especially Hegel and Nietzsche . . .

Strom: Yup . . .

CW: So, how did those influences -- Hegel’s teleological history and Nietzschen nihilism and Carleton College in the Reagan years -- turn a shy little socialist puppy into a conservative pit bull?

Prof. Wellstone during the powerline protests of the 1970s.Strom: Oddly enough actually, probably -- even though my interests lay in the 19th century German -- the people that had the most lasting influence on me were actually Aristotle and [Alexis] de Tocqueville. Aristotle is not an exciting philosopher. De Tocqueville is captivating; I not sure you could call him exciting, but he’s certainly captivating.

At the time -- you’re in your early 20s, and you’re looking for that grand definition of the world -- I think it was easy to latch onto Hegel and in particular for me Nietzsche, because they seemed to describe a very vivid, interesting, fascinating universe, and one that seemed to accord with my own sort of beliefs and experiences.

CW: How do you rationalize those philosophies with a soft vague socialism?

Strom: The “soft vague socialist” description is sort of driven by sentiment. There is always, particularly for people in their teens and early 20s, a desire to see a very friendly world, one that you can fit in fairly easily. I certainly had a strong desire to see good.

I had grown up in a household where all the books that I read -- sort of the dominant theme of my life growing up -- even the children’s books were all about justice.

CW: Was that a parental thing?

Strom: Yeah. My mother came from a very hardscrabble background in Oklahoma, small town Oklahoma. Her father had abused her mother. Her grandfather was a mining inspector who had been killed in a mining accident of some kind -- I think a mine collapsed -- and they fell on very hard times. I’m not sure, but I have the impression that they lived not just sort of on the wrong side of the tracks after he died, in terms of not having money, but they existed on the wrong side of the law.

Oklahoma was a pretty tough place back then -- small town Oklahoma. Men were not particularly good people. They either did their best but failed, or they were abusive like my grandfather. So actually I didn’t know a lot about them [grandparents] except through my mother’s attitudes -- I‘d have to say “skeptical” and probably seeking something better . . . justice.

On my father’s side, both of my father’s parents were children of immigrants. Their parents were first generation. Very much their lives were dominated by the depression; Franklin Roosevelt was a hero to them. Both my parents were born during the war, ‘41 and ‘42.

My father grew up in an explicitly socialist household. They [grandparents] never quite made the jump to being members of the Communist party -- although a lot of their friends were -- because they could never reconcile to Stalin’s “follow the party line.” I think the big hit for them was the Hitler-Stalin pact.

CW: You’re talking about your grandparents, right?

Strom: Yeah. Yeah. So, my father used go and visit with friends who were communists. Politics was a very big part of their lives. They never quite were communists.

CW: Were you aware of this growing up?

Strom: I was so ever vaguely aware of it. Politics were a very big part of my life. The children’s books I remember ever so vividly were biographies of slain heroes -- the Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King. I was born in 1964, so some of my first memories were of men landing on the moon and the assassinations.

My parents were not 60’s flower children; they were teaching the 60’s flower children.My parents had the Whole Earth Catalogue. They were not 60’s flower children; they were teaching the 60’s flower children. They were born during the war; they were four or five years older. They were never part of the campus ferment, but it was certainly in the background. I very much remember the Vietnam War, fears about the draft.

The first political campaign that I remember vividly, because I participated in it, was McGovern-Nixon. I went around and handed out bumper stickers and collected little bits of money . . .

CW: For McGovern?

Strom: For McGovern. So the “vague socialism” was probably based upon a belief that the primary political virtue was justice, and that human decency toward each other was one of the highest political goals.

Although at the same time the great irony is both my parents just were raging elitists. I remember many, many, many times when they were dealing with particularly bureaucratic impediments to things that they wanted to do -- my father would go in and try to get something done -- and it was clearly something that any rationale person would do it were they free to do it -- but for some reason or another it was against the rules and the person would say “Well it’s against the rules . . .”

CW: For example?

Strom: Going in to a bank and someone doesn’t want to cash a check because of some technical thing. Essentially these things always work themselves out, but somehow in the midst of all this you get “Well, the Nazis were just following orders.” But they’re not a Nazi -- you know -- they’re a bank teller. [Laughs]

At the same time, it’s very odd -- we used to take these very long trips around the county. All jammed into a VW Micro Bus. Without air conditioning or anything else. For kids it’s a horrible thing. You know, fine, you stop off at some beautiful place, and you walk around for a while, and then you’re put back into the car again -- the stuff of all sorts of people’s terrible memories of childhood.

I’d have to say Ayn Rand provided a kind of an intellectual slap in the face to a lot of the things I just thought were unassailable.I remember we were stopping in San Francisco, of all places, on our way somewhere -- to one of the parks around there. I, of course, was bitching, moaning and whining -- I was 12 or 13. So, I was a voracious reader, and so my father dragged me into a book store, because I was so annoying, and bought . . . oh, I would say four or five different books, two of three of which are Ayn Rand books. He said “Here, you’d like these,” [laughs] which I did at the time.

I am by no means an Ayn Rand guy now, but at the time, you know it was kind of like a slap in the face, because you have all of the background having to do with social justice, racism and everything else, and now suddenly here’s someone questioning the basic premise about of our obligations to each other -- who really provides the motive force behind society? -- all those things.

While like most people in the conservative circles, I have sort of left some of the more extreme aspects of Ayn Rand behind, I’d have to say she provided a kind of an intellectual slap in the face to a lot of the things I just thought were unassailable.

CW: Such as?

Tax Rally protesters -- There’s justice associated with creating the division of wealth -- which had never occurred to me.Strom: Well in particular a lot of the arguments about social justice start out with the presumption that wealth exists. It’s out there. It’s like a diamond. Something that exists that is almost perfectly isolated by itself. And the question of who has it is just a question of who’s able to get their hands on it.

And actually through a lot of history, there was a fair amount of truth to that. Obviously there was work involved -- agriculture and things -- but it was not like there was a rapidly expanding pie. But in the modern world, wealth is something that is primarily created by human intellect, and will, and desire and by injecting those elements into the equation, suddenly things get a lot muddier.

What happens is when you take wealth away from these people who have lots of it and give it to these people who don’t have a lots of it, you actually start destroying wealth. This was a tremendous revelation to me at the time -- that something I had assumed was a constant was actually a variable. When you talk about people’s worth, you’re not just talking about labor, you’re talking about creativity, you’re talking about a vastly dynamic system. There’s justice associated with creating the division of wealth -- which had never occurred to me.

One of the things that has continually impressed upon me over the years is that there are, in fact, a number of wealth generators out there. You still sort of see this when talking to people over at the state legislature -- a kind of blindness to the fact that in a vastly complex system., not so much at the big corporations but at the small- to medium-sized business, if you replaced all the people there, lopped of the heads and put someone else there, the system would just sort of fall apart. Which is exactly what happened in the Soviet Union and a lot of the other places. So Ayn Rand had very big impact on me on giving me a sense that the other side of the equation is much more complicated.

CW: Let’s run that for a little bit and put what you’ve just described into terms of politics today. One of the things you’re quoted as saying is the liberal politics is “willful ignorance married to moral superiority.”

Strom: [Laughs] That’s a good line.

CW: That is a good line. You said that. And it’s kind of what you’re driving to here. You say you’ve got a group that believes that denies wealth must be created . . .

Strom: Yes.

CW:. . . but morally we should be able to just redistribute that wealth. From your “total intellectual geek” perspective how does that idea fit in the conservative-liberal political model.

Strom: You know, one of the things that always makes this difficult is that there two axis there that everyone knows about. You have the social conservative and the social liberal and the economic conservative and the economic liberal, and I‘d rather focus on that because I think it’s a lot less complicated.

I like to argue that there is just a vast number of people who define the spectrum entirely incorrectly. They think that one end of the spectrum is communism and the other end of the spectrum is fascism, which I think is entirely incorrect. The spectrum is really from statism to individualism. That is the defining element of the spectrum, so I put communism and fascism in pretty much the same spot.

CW: Some people consider the line you’ve defined to be a circle. Bend the line and fascism and communism come together.

Strom: Right. The distinguishing characteristic between fascism and communism really has more to do with whether or not it’s nationalist. I think essentially a socialist state is sort of a world fascist state. But if you read Mussolini, and I had to because I taught his work, it’s quite fascinating. Mussolini actually sounds very much like today’s communitarian, which would drive them crazy.

CW: Including our president?

Strom: Well, depends on what day your listening to the president.

CW: He’d consider himself a communitarian, would he not?

Strom: Well, the former president certainly did. The current president, I think clearly has sympathies that lie in that direction, although he’s obviously much more aware of the need to foster entrepreneurialism. But with that said, when I talk to conservatives or people who consider themselves conservatives I sort of slice and dice them between people who in one way or another are associated with big organizations, whether it’s big government, big corporations, big anything. I think they are much less sensitive to the importance of dynamic individualism than intervals who have created something out of nothing.

Big corporations were like small corporation a long time ago, but with the exception of one or two, Microsoft and Intel out there right now, they are actually, genetically, much more similar to government than they are to the entrepreneurial economy.

CW: Internally, most corporations are structurally socialist or communist organizations.

Strom: Exactly. Exactly. And so people are always surprised when we [Taxpayers League] have clashes and conflicts with the Chamber of Commerce. “Aren’t you pro-business.” And the answer is, “No, we’re pro-individualists.” And if the businesses are pro-individualist, then we’re with them, and if they’re not, then we’re not.
Businesses -- you’ve worked in large corporations, you know exactly what its like -- my uncle, who is a socialist, has these arguments with me because works for IBM and he tells me how socialist IBM is and “Don’t you see the good of this.”

Well, no. [Laughs]

CW: What you’re saying is that a free society can tolerate pockets of socialism, but a socialist society cannot tolerate pockets of freedom.

Strom: Yes, and I don’t have problems with that. I just don’t want to see socialism expanded beyond the boundaries of those corporations. I also think as they move in that direction, that makes them extremely vulnerable. In fact, that did happen to IBM. They are not the same corporation they were five years ago. In fact, they are shedding a lot of their manufacturing amd services and are becoming a much more entrepreneurial company because they were getting their asses handed to them.

CW: Reminds me of one of my favorite executive quotes. When the corporation I worked for decided we were going to be more entrepreneurial, The president of our division stood up and said “Now I want you all to take risks, but please . . . be careful.”

Strom: [Laughing.] That’s great.

CW: And that relates to our discussion of government. Politicians talk about doing innovative things to reform government, but by God, they’re going to be careful.

Strom: Yup.

CW: Let’s pull back to the notion of being a conservative. On your radio show, you and I debated the proper role for government in the Terri Schiavo case. I don’t want to rehash that here, but talk a little bit about how you, personally look at the inherent conservative conundrum or conflict between the principle of limited government and the moral imperatives of conservatism like “culture of life” issues and same-sex marriage.

Strom: Sure. It is a conundrum. There is absolutely no question about that. It really goes to the question of all right, if we’re decided for prudential reasons we have to have government, and I think we do, then what are the specific defined roles we want government to have? What are the things prudentially that government can do that we can’t do?

One of the arguments I always have with the libertarians, with whom I’m very sympathetic, is over the question of the helpless. And one of the arguments of the libertarians that seems to me to be weakest is that they presume something that I think is actually kind of a social creation, and that is the rationality of human beings, their ability to make good decisions. You know we are born helpless, and we are nurtured -- this is where the Aristotle part comes in . . .

CW: And this is also where you depart from Rand.

Strom: Yes, very much so. This is why I think ultimately there is a serious weakness in her thinking. Government has to be there, not as the nurturer, that’s where I think the left has gone astray, but it has to recognize that the nurturing role has to exist.

Horses can be a good example. Horses come out [of the womb] and within for an hour they are on their feet. Human beings come out . . . and the reason they’re not in the womb is they don’t fit anymore. [Laughing] It’s really that simple.

It’s not that they’re fully formed beings just micro versions of the adult; they are yet to be fully developed. So, one of the things that government does is create the opportunity for the nurturing to take place through the police power function and to a certain extent I think, and here’s where there’s a huge gray area, ensuring that parents have some level of control over what their children see, do, feel and hear and everything else.

I think it is a legitimate government concern to ensure that kids when they’re walking home aren’t being offered drugs and have prostitution taking place around them. Not only are we not physically fully functioning, we’re not capable at the earliest stages of our lives of making rationale decisions and in particular to distinguish between things we have an appetite for and things that are good for us. We don’t have any way of distinguishing those things.

CW: You’re talking childhood decision here. What about when you get into adult-level discussions -- whether or not to have an abortion or make a same-sex marriage?

I think ultimately on a principled basis, government should be out of the marriage business.Strom: I think of those as two very separate issues. I think ultimately on a principled basis, government should be out of the marriage business. I understand and have tremendous sympathy for people who are disturbed by government recognition of same-sex marriage and all of those issues, and in particular how tight government is tied into the education of our children.

You aren’t talking about letting these two people do their thing. You’re really talking about a whole infrastructure that trickles down to the education of our children. Ultimately to the extent that there is a solution to that, it’s getting government out of the marriage business.

CW: How about ultimately getting government out of the education business?

Strom: Yes, that as well. I think that’s probably true. It’s impossible for a proper education to stay away from moral questions. Then the question really becomes, do you really want the government to become the arbiter of moral questions.

CW: Government could be an arbiter, as long as there was the choice of something else. I wouldn’t have a problem with that.

Strom: Yes.

Now, with abortion the problem becomes more complex, because the question becomes are you dealing with another helpless individual or not. That’s a very legitimate question. I think its quite clear no one has the answer to that question.

You know, you now have people who are pro-choice voting for laws that say if you kill a pregnant woman the baby in the womb is another murder and everything else . . .

CW: Pro-life people, you mean?

Strom: No, even some pro-choice people. Those laws pass with fairly strong majorities, where you couldn’t get across many laws having to do with the regulation of abortion itself. And I think a lot of it has to do with when you’re moving from principle to practice the world sort of slaps you in the face time and time again with the gray areas.

Clearly, even with rationality, there is a continuum. You want to say, and we do in government, when you’re 18 you’re on your own. But as we know, there are 12 year olds who probably are particularly capable of running their lives, and there are 30 year olds that aren‘t. But government has very blunt instruments.

CW: But isn’t the point that even though rules like the voting age are arbitrary, the assumption is that they are achievable by everyone? The assumption is every one will live to 18 and will vote. Everyone will get to vote, therefore it’s non-discriminatory.

Strom: Yeah, again one of the things that I’ve found as I’ve gotten older and older and older and as more practice has mixed with principle, I’ve had to become -- and this is actually another conservative thing -- I’ve had to become reconciled to the messiness of the world, that in the fact there is a lot of arbitrariness.

Actually one of the most difficult things for me, because of my own background has been that you have to recognize that government is not really in the justice business. That’s where I started; justice was the highest principle. But, government isn’t in the justice business. In my own life I’ve seen this where you deal with the (quote) “justice” system. Government is in the “conflict resolution” business.

That’s what government is about. It is resolving conflicts. Trying to satisfy, trying to find the solution that everybody can live with. There is absolutely no way to dispense justice. And people don’t want justice. They say they want justice -- What they want is mercy for themselves; they want “justice” for the other guy.

In societies where justice is, in fact, the primary virtue, what you’ll usually get is horrible violence. The most violent societies in the world existed during the 20th century and they were based upon very strong, very clear concepts of justice.

That’s where in fact where Aristotle and de Tocqueville were so important to me. Well, I don’t even have to go to de Tocqueville. Aristotle when he wrote the “politics,” he wrote the politics; when he wrote the “ethics,” he wrote the ethics. These are two different things.

And one of the great insights that I had in my 20s was that you have to separate out the good for human beings as such from the good of human beings as a community. They are not the same thing. To a certain extent, they are irreconcilable. You could do your best to find a modus vivendi, but what’s really good for you is not necessarily what’s really good for society as a whole. It’s most obvious when you have a draft.

CW: Let’s jump from that point -- “what‘s good for you is not necessarily good for society” (with just a note that much of Rand’s thinking is based on Aristotle.)

Strom: Yes. Okay.

CW: There was a report by the Minnesota Community Project that came out of the Humphrey Institute. The study found that people thought their tax dollars were wasted, that government was not spending on things that benefited them personally. Ted Mondale [with the Humphrey Institute] said he was surprised by those findings; he hoped that they could use that information to build consensus, which was really the premise for the study. You made some comments on that study in the press, and I’d like you to expand on them. Were you surprised by the findings of the study, and how would you use them?

Strom: I’m not surprised by those findings. Peter Hutchinson [Public Strategies Group, Independent Party Candidate for Governor] wrote a book called “The Price of Government,” one of the things I found very insightful about his book was that people did seem to have a limit -- there are paradigm changes to limits over grand time scales of 50 to 100 year -- but people have a limit to what they are willing to pay for government.

We’re a thermostat. He didn’t put it that way, but I’ve talked him. Taxpayers League is kind of a thermostat. When you go above that limit, people express their dissatisfaction. They organize, they push back. So I’m not at all shocked by this finding that people are not satisfied because I hear it all the time from people. That’s why they give us a million dollars a year, all from contributions.

I think a lot of it [distrust of government] is driven by mostly legitimate feelings. It has noting to do “community feeling.” Most people, when they look at government, they don‘t see what people on the left see, which is sort of this grand collectivity, our “common expression.” They see government as essentially another big organization. The big difference [between government and other organizations] is they don’t have a choice. They have to participate in this one, because if they don’t, they go to jail. And they’re willing to participate because they see benefit for that.

But the common American understanding about government is actually still primarily based upon the founding fathers understanding, which is that this is a social compact. We go into it -- read [John] Locke, and it’s very clear -- we go into this because we see that it’s in our interest, not because of any love we have for our neighbors or anything else. It doesn’t preclude love for our neighbors, but it’s not based on that. We go into it because if we don’t we’re likely to get whacked on the head. [Laughs] When people quit getting the sense that they are getting something out of it, they start to rebel.

CW: Okay. Let’s take the other side of that thought. Here’s a quote from Beth Haney of the Children’s Defense Fund of Minnesota. She’s talking about the affects of increased co-payments for families receiving state-subsidized child care. She says --

"Child care is not a luxury . . . It’s a necessity. Especially if you’re just coming off of welfare, and you’re being required to work, which is great and families are doing that. But we need to make sure that those kids are safe and they’re in stable places. And so for those families, it [increased co-payment] is essentially a tax increase.”
So let’s tie up some of the things you’ve talked about. Here you have a vulnerable population. You have people who are expecting something from government and see the direct benefit, but which requires a transfer of wealth, which you talked about earlier.

So, how do you respond to concerns like Haney’s without coming across as some Dickensonian villain?

Strom: [Laughs] I wish I knew. Some people actually do see me as a Dickensonian guy.

First, I want to say, I don’t know enough to endorse what the governor is doing [in child care]. I think it is essentially a prudential question in the sense that you could probably sit down, and if you looked at the long term costs and benefits of what you’re doing, come to the conclusion that maybe what they’re doing is not a good idea.

You know, it’s all well and good to say that parents should be out there working and earning their keep and they don’t have a right to other people’s money and all that stuff, but one of the things that does very much seem to be a part of both our social compact, and in some ways more importantly, a legitimate role of government is to ensure that those people who are vulnerable are protected, at least to a minimum extent.

You could look at this and say, “Well maybe this isn’t a good idea.” I don’t know because the line that I would draw is the “moral hazard line,” which is again a very prudential thing. Have we gotten to a point where the protections we are providing people actually encourages behaviors that are bad for them?

CW: Or are we extending those benefits beyond the truly most vulnerable people in our society?

Strom: Yes. That I think has clearly happened in Minnesota. I have had conversations with people who are practically in tears about some government benefit they are getting that is going to be cut. And when you start probing you find -- I just had very frank conversion with a parent who had a 500 percent increase in their co-payment. So I asked, “Well, what is you income?” and it was like $98,000 a year. They’re co-payment had gone up from like $60 to $300. I said, “Well, that’s your car payment on a Jaguar?” I’m sorry. But this is your kid. You owe your kid. Government is there to protect the most vulnerable when they can’t be protected by their families. I think it is a basically prudential question.

I will say that I have not been -- I have not gotten into this in any of my public pronouncements or anything -- but I have not been 100 percent sympathetic to the approach that has been taken in the reshaping of the budget. I think they [Pawlenty administration] are doing everything they can to minimize the political damage, which is rationale from their point of view. But to minimize the political damage, they are also grappling with the fact that the fastest growing part of the budget is health and human services. And they’ve got a huge political problem; the places they should be looking at are middle-class entitlements, but those are politically very risky places to go. So, the easiest place to go is to rejigger things for the most vulnerable. I think that is both prudentially and morally questionable.

David Strom and his 'Mini-Me.' Is this really the Twin Cities Doctor Evil?CW: That’s interesting. I was going to ask this question later, but it works well now. What I’m hearing now is a kinder and gentler David Strom than portrayed in the media or the public imagination. “You’ve been described as the conservative “liberals love to hate.” City Pages named you the Twin Cities “Best Villain.” You’ve also been compared to Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini. Very recently, the president of the Minnesota State Patrol Troopers Association philosophically linked the Taxpayer’s League to the radical and violent Posse Comitatus.

Some of that criticism comes with the territory, but the more personal attacks must affect you . . . well, personally. How do you react to that kind of criticism? How would you characterize it?

Strom: Well, it used to hurt a lot. I remember quite vividly the Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini comparison. My first reaction to it was actually perplexity. Primarily because when I think of Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini, I think of big state guys [laughs]. My first thought was “Boy, does this person not get it.”

Oddly enough, I met the person who wrote that letter, who was a senior in high school. Very smart kid. He was in the baccalaureate program, and I spoke to his class. I was just thrilled when I met this class -- I speak to a lot of high school groups who appear to be on the brink of sleep -- but this was a very intellectually engaged group. I talked to him about it, and he claimed that it had never occurred to him that anybody would take away from that that he was comparing me to mass murders. So the defining characteristic of them in his point of view was that they did not embrace the history of their civilizations. And the Floyd B. Olson-Ronald Reagan thing he saw as an attempt to wipe out history.

No, I explained to him. It’s about who we are. I’m not suggesting that we wipe Floyd B. Olson from the history books, but that we learn about Floyd B. Olson and say “God, that was a bad guy.” [Laughs].

But anyway, yes, at first it was very personally hurtful. One of the things that has blunted that a great deal is that there is a very . . . well, there are two kinds of people in politics. There are the people who are in it just to win, and then there are the people who are in it because they have very strong convictions about how to improve the world.

Debating and sharing a laugh with Ember Reichgott Junge on KSTPOne of the things I’ve found is first, those are fascinating people to be around, and I have had the great opportunity over the past eight years meet a good chunk of them and become friends with them. So, for instance, David Lillehaug is a friend; Ember Reichgott Junge is a friend; I’ve had fascinating conversations with people like Steve Kelley, and Dick Cohen . They are fundamentally decent people, and I have found -- and I think they have found -- that we have a lot more in common than we don’t.

So overall, in my real day-to-day interactions with people, I tend to discount both the positive and the negative. You know I’ve had people come up and go “Oh, you’re my hero,” and it’s like “You don’t know me” [Laughs]. You don’t tell them that. You don’t discourage them from that, but it has zero impact on me personally because it’s not me, at all. It has to do with some sort of . . . you become a symbol for some people, and that’s very disassociated from who you are.

Personally, I have found my interactions with those other people, the people who I’ve gotten to know from all areas of the political spectrum to be very personally satisfying. They are on the whole very good and decent people who are trying to do the right thing.

CW: So, now let’s talk a little about the “meaner” David Strom . . .

Strom: Sure.

CW: Let’s talk about the Taxpayer’s League in general. A quick genesis of the Taxpayer’s League. How has it evolved and where it’s going?

Strom: The Taxpayers League was formed in 1997. The motive forces behind it were Mike Wiggly, who is our chair, who partnered up with Darrell McKigney, who was a guy I knew from college. Darrell had unsuccessfully run for Congress, he was spokesman for the Minnesota Family Council, and he had always felt that while there was a pretty active social conservative element in Minnesota, which had historically transferred from the Democratic party to the Republican Party. In fact for a long time it fell more in the Democratic party. The MCCL used to be an entirely Democratic organization, and it’s just been the national Democrat trend to socialism that has pushed those people into the Republican party. So he [Darrell] convinced Mike to put a stake into the Taxpayers League to see if it could raise more money and do things.
I came on as a very low-paid, part-time employee. Our primary goal was to get a scorecard out and get some presence in people’s minds. Of course it mushroomed. A lot of that had to do with the times when you had a lot of budget surpluses and a vastly exploding “cost of government,” to put it into Peter Hutchinson’s terms, and I think you had the other elements. There was another group out there, Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, that was trying to fill that niche.

What we had that was unique, to put it in business terms, was a tremendous ability to market what we were doing. Also, this was somewhat true of Darrell and I think much more true of me, was an essential sympathy with the people who were the opinion makers -- not in terms of what we believed, but in terms of the ability to break through the barrier. This has been an extraordinarily difficult thing for conservatives because there’s always been this huge cultural divide between conservatives and the dominant political elite and the dominant intellectual elite, which is essentially liberal, particularly in the media. And my background, having been a professor and having grown up in exactly that cultural and political elite, made it much easier to sit down and talk to people who otherwise would be very wary of conservatives.

You’ll remember that in 1996, Alan Quist was the dominant political conservative force, and he was so easy to caricature. If there was one thing about Alan Quist that you absolutely knew it was “he wanted to keep women in the home” and . . . I mean he was straight out of the “Scarlet Letter.” That’s how he was portrayed. Having a professor show up and talk about these things, be able to answer when they asked the next question and do it in such a way that people went “Well, gee, I never thought of it in that way,” I think had a tremendous impact on our ability to get through the door, to get on the Rolodexes.

The defining characteristic of the League has been our ability to break into the mainstream media. A lot of that had to do with saying exactly what we think and say it in such a way that people in the media can use it and also have a level of comfort they are not handing the microphone to a Posse Comitatus. [Laughs]. That’s the irony there, if I really were for the Posse Comitatus, I’d never wind up in the newspaper as much as I do, because reporters are actually pretty good at filtering those people out.

They [reporters] have a lot of experience and great nose for bullshit. I had a reporter call me up to put me very much on the spot. What he said was “I’m asking you this because I know you’re going to tell me the truth,” and then he asked me a very difficult question. I told him the truth. It was not exactly a gotcha, but it didn’t reflect terrible well on an ally, but it is very important to establish a bond of trust with reporters.

We raised about $300,000 that first year, and now we’re about a $ million dollar a year organization.

CW: Just roughly, how is that money spent?

If you want to be in the public’s consciousness, you have to be out there and shouting at them.Strom: Roughly 50 to 60 percent of it goes to what I’d call the basics of the Taxpayer’s League -- staffing, doing our scorecard, doing the basic media that we do, which is our radio program and our brand-building and occasional persuasive advertising on the Patriot [AM1280] where we have a very strong tie. The next $300,000 or so goes to what I consider to be second tier important, but optional things, which are buying radio in particular. This is the other thing that is unusual about the Taxpayers League, for at least conservative organizations, in a typical year we spend about $300,000 on advertising.

CW: Issue-oriented advertising?

Strom: Issue-oriented advertising. Exactly. So, we have sort of a two-tier strategy. One, to be part of the conversation through lobbying, through our earned media, through our research. And two, insert ourselves into the conversation, become when we want to be, a dominant voice in the conversation through paid media.

One of the things I learned when I worked on the political campaign in ‘96 is that earned media is very important -- that over time you can build a brand, you can become part of the conversation, the political elite will pay attention, but if you want to be in the public’s consciousness, you have to be out there and shouting at them, simply because everyone else is out there shouting at them.

People look at the Star Tribune, for instance or the Pioneer Press, combined there, what 500,000 or 600,000 readers, but they don’t have 500,000 or 600,000 people reading every story -- any particular story.

CW: Oh I think they all read my column.

Strom: Well, of course, that’s right. [Laughs] But a particular story gets read by thousands of people not tens or hundreds of thousands of people. So if you want to reach hundreds of thousands of people, you have to reach them on their terms. Everyone knows who Coke is, because Coke spends a lot of money on advertising. And everyone thinks about Coke in a certain way because Coke has advertised itself that way.

If you don’t define yourself, then other people who have an interest in defining you, will do so. Part of our success has been the ability to spend $150,000 to $300,000 a year getting our message out to people. People on the left complain all the time about “Why is the media so obsessed with worrying about what the Taxpayers League says.” And I think the answer boils down to the fact that, you can’t ignore us because if we want to, we can insert ourselves into any conversation we want.

CW: Let’s talk about “definition.” Probably the most defining issue for the Taxpayers League is the “No New Taxes Pledge.” That’s your signature issue in the public mind. It’s your brand, so to speak. Personally, I agree with that position, but it makes me a little nervous . . .

Strom: Sure.

CW: . . . when my legislators are publicly signing a document -- symbolically signing a document -- that makes them obligated to an outside agency.

What do you hold as the real significance of the “No New Taxes” pledge and could you ever politically forgive a politician that went back on the pledge?

Strom: First of all, it doesn’t matter if we forgive anyone. Ultimately our success or failure is entirely driven by the public’s willingness to buy into what we’re saying. If people didn’t give a crap what we said, then politicians would simply ignore us. The key to our success ultimately is our ability to persuade people.

The pledge itself is really, actually just symbolic. It’s not a contract. No one is responsible to us. We can scream bloody murder if we want to, but ultimately our ability to . . . I don’t know . . . enforce it or anything else really actually rests upon people’s sense of whether or not what we’re saying actually accords with what’s really prudent. People are actually quite “willing to pay for a better Minnesota,” to put it into the terms of the left, they are just skeptical that they are paying for a better Minnesota when they pay higher taxes.

Ultimately -- and this has become more and more true over time -- people are expecting value. They have a lot of choices in their lives; they have hundreds of different kinds of toilet paper and everything else, and they’re able to spread their preferences. And government is remarkably bad at providing value to people, simply because it has no competitor. The essential fact about government is that it is a monopoly.

In that context, what the “No New Taxes” pledge is really all about is drawing a line in the sand and saying to people “Look. All you do is spend more money.”

I think this captures it almost perfectly -- the options that have been give to people before when you looked at government in some kind of financial restraints have been [ticks off on fingers 1] pay more and get the same -- just raise taxes so you get to pay more for exactly the same services that you had before; [2] pay more and get less, which is the preferred solution usually, which is raise taxes a little bit, cut spending a little bit; or [3] pay the same, and get less, which is, relatively speaking, the path by government in these last financial crunches -- pay the same, your taxes don’t go down, but your services do.

Well those are three crappy choices. I mean, excuse me, but those are bad choices and the thing is, in other parts of your life, things aren’t bad like that at all. People are used to paying less and getting more.

On of the things that has happened is people have internalized the “productivity edge.” They’ve revolutionized the productivity revolution. They’ve had to execute it themselves. One of the major frustrations with government is has been that people see no evidence that government has internalized it at all.

So what the “No New Taxes” pledge is all about is saying “This is the line in the sand. Now you guys have to figure out how to do what you’re suppose to do.” It’s essentially a substitute for competition. The “No New Taxes” pledge is really about saying we don’t have any competitors for them [government], but we do have financial restraints. That’s my conception of it.

I have no illusions that this is particularly thoughtful or subtle way of dealing with government -- although I think people grossly over estimate the importance of thoughtfulness and subtlety when it comes to government. Government actually has very blunt instruments . . . .

CW: Washington’s warning “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence - it is force!”

Strom: Yes! And people are always trying to come up with these remarkably elegant solutions. I’m sorry, all you’ve got is a sledgehammer. That’s it. So don’t swing it wildly, let’s figure out what we can do with a sledgehammer and not do the other things.

I understand and even sympathize with the critique that is out there, but it misses the point. If you do not have that one constraint [no new taxes] -- just “Here’s the money now figure out what to do” -- then you have no constraints. None at all. When government gets its money, it gets it through coercion. You don’t have a choice.
When they raise your taxes, you can’t say “Well, I’m opting out. I don’t think I’m getting a good deal.” You wind up in Leavenworth. The only constraints are political, and the only kind of political restraints that work are simple and blunt.

CW: So you can say the “No New Taxes” pledge is intended to get government out of the business of what it could do and into the business of what it should do.

Strom: Should do. Yes. Exactly.

This may be too excessively philosophical, but I want to get this out. This goes back to the “kindler, gentler” Taxpayers League. If I had to find the one sort of defining difference between our point of view and the point of view of a lot people on the social justice left, or the economic justice left, it has to do with to do with the vastly different understandings of the proper role of love in human society.

I think that experience and even serious intellectual thinking show that the proper role of love in human affairs is primarily in personal interactions between people in small communities. This is where de Tocqueville comes in.

Vast numbers of people can’t all, and shouldn’t be expected to, love each, treat each other as brothers, you know . . . that whole liberty equality, fraternity is BS. It’s just not true. It’s not that people are bad or anything else; its that our capacity to have true human compassionate love is limited to people whom we know in some way or another. We can have abstract sympathy and compassion for people and send them money, but it’s a very tiny fraction of the human population that can, should, or want to, jet all over the world helping every single person that they meet.

And yet on the left, they believe that the proper role for government should be guided by love. On a theoretical and very practical level, that’s a mistake. Government is never guided by love. It’s not because people in government aren’t good, but because organizations are rules based. They have to be when you’re dealing with thousands or millions of people. There is no way you can love, nurture, deal with every single person.

What was it that [Leo] Tolstoy said, “Every happy family has the same story . . . every unhappy family . . . .”

CW: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Anna Karenina.

Strom: Right, every unhappy family is unique. And interesting.

Well, you know, government doesn’t deal with happy people. It deals with sort of the social failures. There’s no way government can hug every single one of those people and give them what they particularly need, so what does government do? It creates bureaucracies and programs and hands out the same thing to the same people in the same way because there’s no other practical way to do it.

It’s unsurprising that that fails. Absolutely unsurprising. The only way to salvage lives is one at a time. It’s a perfectly worthy project. One that at some level or another we should all engage in, but you cannot outsource it. It’s impossible to outsource that. If you want to express love in community affairs, you have to do it yourself. You can’t do it by simply writing a check to government and expect some vast bureaucracy to do it.

CW: That brings as back to this notion of government extending its reach beyond just the most vulnerable, which then takes away . . . .

Strom: Exactly.

CW: . . . from civil society’s ability to solve problems. And it’s willingness I would think.

Strom: Yes. First, it creates the idea that “I gave at the office,” which is true! You did in fact give at the office. You gave a large check at the office. For the average person in some way or another it’s between 30 and 40 percent of their income is being given at the office. A lot of that, some 50 to 60 percent is going specifically to solve those [social] problems.

On a very practical level, no matter how generous you are, if 30 to 40 percent of your income is going to the government, you’re going have less. You’re going to have to work more, you’re going to have less interaction with your fellows. Government actually crowds out the proper realm where love can be expressed by displacing it.

What government tries to do is replace the family, the church, the neighborhood, the community with a benevolent bureaucracy. The benevolent bureaucracy cannot, just physically cannot, do what [civil society] can do. But it has pushed them aside, said “This is our problem. Just go away. By the way, go work some more so that we can do more of this.”

For me that is an extraordinarily troubling thing that has happened because you’ve crowded out the actual place where things can happen.

The obvious argument is “Well, it doesn’t happen all the time. When you’re saving people one at a time, there are lots of people who fall through the cracks.” And that is absolutely true. And there’s not adequate answer to that other than the wealthier we get as a society, the less that will be true over time. Practically speaking that’s clearly true. You compare the United States to the third world and the wealthier society gets, the smaller and smaller and smaller fraction of our population has falls through the cracks.

The flip side is, practically speaking, look what government has done. What it has wrought is worse than the poverty as it existed before. It has created permanent poverty out of what was temporary poverty. So, at a practical level you can say “Yeah, now people are falling through the cracks, but you can find them in these pockets of poverty where you and your children will be forever wards of the government, which is far worse.

Both solutions are far from perfect, but you can weigh the differences and say the wealthier we get the more generous we’re able to be. The evidence is people are willing to be very generous, but right now, they’re ticked off about government.

CW: Okay. Let’s apply that philosophy to actual issues that the Taxpayers League takes a stand on.

Strom: Sure.

CW: I’ve got a long list here. We could talk about the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, Taxpayer’s Satisfaction Survey, limiting the expansion of gambling, but I think I’ll just open it up and let you pick the key issues. You’ve laid out a philosophical position. Now tell me how the Taxpayers League is executing that philosophical position. How are you driving to a society with less government involvement?

Strom: There is absolutely no question that, again looking at it prudentially, the instruments we have are only slightly less blunt than those the government has. So you look at the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, you look at Taxpayer’s Satisfaction Survey, you look at most of the other issues we’ve dealt with -- several of which funnel down into sort of microcosms, the transit issues . . . I’d love to actually talk about the transit issues because I think it’s the perfect microcosm of the problem government has . . . but all of them in one way or another are putting together those restraints I was talking about as a substitute for competition.

That’s what Taxpayer Satisfaction Surveys are all about, that’s what the Taxpayers Bill of Rights is all about -- there’s a term that’s always used by conservatives, kind of lovingly to demonstrate how mean they are, “Starve the Beast.” What that really is is sort of a shorthand for find some mechanism to get government focusing back on itself rather than strictly mushrooming and expanding. And it’s going to be a very messy process. They’re going to do everything they can to avoid reforming before they reform. Not because they are bad or anything, but because that’s what institutions do.

Great example is looking at Polaroid, at Xerox. Polaroid refused and refused and refused to recognize what happened in the marketplace, and they died. Xerox did everything they could to avoid reforming, and finally rather than actually face the death penalty, they did it.

Institutions don’t like to change. You have to create tremendous constraints on them because they will do anything they can to avoid reforming, and frankly, the same is true for most people. Most people don’t like change. It’s just that we are much more subject to the whims of what’s going on in the world than government is because they are a big hulking entity where as we’re like a blade of grass.

CW: In my corporate days, our mantra was Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s quote that “Change is debilitating when done to us, but exhilarating when done by us.”

Strom: Yes, exactly. [Laughs]

CW: The government version of that is “take the inevitable and make it look like a plan.”

Strom: Yes. Exactly. Let me talk about the transit issue . . .

CW: Sure.

Strom: . . . because I think it is the perfect microcosm of the problem.

I’ve been interested in this issue for probably seven years. The light rail issue has been around forever, I got to know Phil Krinkie and this is one of his big issues, the big government boondoggle, yada, yada, yada.

My first brush with the issue was whether this was a boondoggle or not. I didn’t know whether Phil was just crazy or cheap or whatever. I looked at the concept and thought “This is kind of cool.” Kind of the same response everybody has. “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a train tooling around and you can hop on and hop off. Be more like Boston, Paris or you know, whatever.”

As is my habit, once something gets on my radar screen I research it to death. The thing that was so shocking to me was the clarity with this issue. Most things like this you can sit down and make arguments on both sides, and you can see where the other guys are coming from, but there really is no rational explanation for what they did.

The one argument for it is, it’s cool.It was a perfect example of bureaucratic imperative overriding everything else. Absolutely, everything else.

Anyone who has sat down and looked at the numbers, looked at the cost/benefit analysis, looked at alternatives can see, not after lots of research, but after very little research, this is a very bad idea. The one argument for it is, it’s cool. That’s it. [Laughs] Some people think those pimp machines with the spinning wheels are cool, but most people don’t say “Well, government ought to fund those.”

CW: Not yet, anyway.

Strom: Not yet anyway. [Laughs] But there is no overriding social benefit to this thing. You can identify individuals who are benefited by it, but society as a whole is clearly and unambiguously harmed by doing this, both economically and in other ways.

Then if you start looking at the transit system as a whole -- well, most people think when we look at the transit system we see a financial flop. But then, going back to the question of what government can and ought to do, if you start with the principle that government does have a role to help people who financially or otherwise are incapable of helping themselves, then there clearly is some role for government to be helping people with transportation because it is clearly a basic necessity of life.

But you look at the transit system, and it is remarkably inefficient. It’s not even close. It’s horrible.

I once went participated in forum on light rail that took place in a hospital in the Phillips Neighborhood, I forgot what it’s called. But anyway, in the advertisement that the governor’s office [Gov. Ventura] had put out, it read “Transit Accessible.” And they had a phone number if you wanted to find out how to get there by bus.

We were in Roseville -- we’re not in Afton or Forest Lake -- we were in Roseville, which is right smack dab in the middle of the Twin Cities, so I called them up and said “I’d like to take the bus.” And they laughed. I mean, they laughed -- they said “Well you can do it,” then they started explaining it . . . like five transfers. Just going from one part of the central Twin Cities to another part of the central Twin Cities was essentially impossible.

That captures actually the problem with the system. It is the perfect bureaucratic system. They designed it not actually for your need to get around; they designed the system for their need to have an easily definable system.

And so you have this hub and spoke system. We have two core cities; it’s complicated. Most people live in the suburbs. It’s impossible to do. When you look at something like this -- the proper questions are “Why do we have a transit system?” To help people get around. “Well, why do we have this particular transit system?” Because it’s the easiest for us to design and maintain.

Those are two very different goals and outcomes. I do not think anyone can consistently argue that this system serves the people it serves well. Particularly when you’re looking at non-choice riders.

CW: If it did provide that service, we’d have more choice riders.

Strom: Yes. And the thing is, it’s expensive. We spend nearly a billion dollars every biennium. That’s nearly $400 million dollars a year. So, it’s not chump change. It’s a lot of money. It’s huge. It’s about half the budget of Hennepin county, to give you an idea. Now Hennepin county doesn’t spend half its budget on transportation, but you can run an entire county, the welfare everything else for only twice what it costs to move 70,000 people around the Twin Cities.

CW: And Hennepin is one of the most expensive counties to run.

Strom: Yes! For most counties, you could provide all the services people need for what we spend to run this bus system. So from my perspective, what they ought to do is -- it is a legitimate public purpose -- ask how can we take people who are at the bottom of the economic ladder and help them move up several rungs so that we’re not taking care of them any more; so people are able to pursue life, liberty and happiness and all the things we say we want people to be able to pursue; actually take care of their kids, get them to the day care they need to get them to, that subsidized day care we provide them.

Well, it’s almost impossible, if you have a job to actually ferry your kids to day care and go to the job in under two to three hours with a bus system. It’s stupid. What if they aren’t in exactly the same spot?

But when we came out with this idea, why don’t we identify the needs, and for people who need cars, give them cars, which is much cheaper and clearly serves them much better, people said “Oh my God, you’re horrible people” because we were not addressing the needs of the system. We were addressing the needs of the people. And they could not believe we were serious about that. But in fact, it’s perfectly rational. It’s exactly, perfectly rational.

CW: Wouldn’t that mean more roads?

Strom: Well, no it wouldn’t. The funny thing is . . . buses actually take an extraordinary amount of the capacity, not particularly the highway system, but of the roads. Buses take half of your road, in reality, because they stop and start, stop and start, so your capacity on the normal streets in our city is actually half if you have buses, if they run with relative frequency, because that lane becomes essentially unusable.

So when the bus system went away [2004 transit strike], traffic was much easier within the cities. I mean, it was just remarkable. It wasn’t just remarkable, people remarked on it. Everyone said “Oh, it’s going to be a disaster. There’s going to be more people on the roads.” Yes, but capacity was nearly doubled.

So you actually do not need as much capacity as people think to replace that system in most places -- probably not on University Ave -- but in most places within the Twin Cities, it actually reduces, not increases capacity. And light rail is even worse, it actually takes the whole roadway away. It doesn’t really replace that capacity.

CW: So, the Central Corridor idea?

Strom: Horrible. A terrible idea. I know Par Ridder [publisher, Pioneer Press, which supports the plan] will be very disappoint for me to say that, but it will be probably an economic development tool in the sense that what you will do is displace -- that is a business incubator area specifically for minorities -- and you are going to displace those people somewhere else and you’ll get local gentrification along the way.

First, that’s simply displacing economic activity that would have taken place someplace else.

Cw: The seen versus the unseen.

Strom: Yes. And on top of that you may, in fact, create a net drag on the people climbing up the economic ladder because you have a relatively concentrated business incubation area there and if it becomes dispersed, it becomes unclear that will be as viable, but I don’t know.

But it goes with everything the “new urbanist” movement is all about, which is ironically in a lot of ways the abandonment of the project of dealing with the poor and disadvantaged and going for what they call the “choice rider” and a tool for gentrification. And not a very good tool for gentrification.

In a lot of ways what I think of the new urbanism as baby boomers wanting to move back to the city and those “really unpleasant, nasty to deal with minorities and foreigners and all these people are in our way -- they ride the bus, so we don’t want to ride the bus, so we want a nice bright shiny train.”

Essentially it’s an attempt by all the white-flighters to take back something they thought they didn’t want. But now that they’re getting older -- they’re empty nesters -- they want it back, so they either reproduce it in the suburbs, which some of them do, or they want to take the city back and sort of gentrify this area -- not through economic means, but by the government imposing it on people. “You go away. We take it. And we make it how we want it. And you pay for it, by the way.”

CW: David Strom speaking for the poor and downtrodden?

Strom: Well, in a lot of ways, I think that the arguments that are made -- and I’m not talking about Marcia Avner of the Minnesota Council of Non-Profits, who I think is entirely sincere -- but a lot of the arguments that are made, particularly by urban planners, are entirely disingenuous and sometimes self-consciously so.

I really think a lot of these people are as tired of government as everyone else, but they want theirs. That’s what they’re doing with this money, with this power. It’s the same argument that I hear with the stadium, which is “I pay so damn much, why can’t I at least get my piece of the pie. I keep on paying in. I keep on paying for everybody else’s goodies, I want my goodies too.” It’s giving up the idea that we should limit government and now it’s just the tool for distributing the goods of society, which in my view borders on theft.

I’m not sure these people would even necessarily disagree. “I’ve been ripped off so many times, why can’t I get mine.” [Laughs]

CW: That’s kind of depressing.

Strom: It’s definitely a sentiment that’s out there. It’s just rarely voiced, in particular by the new urbanists. I have been struck by the almost open hypocrisy that is there. I think it is relatively rare in politics to have people be self-consciously hypocritical. Most of the time people just don’t understand when they’re saying something stupid, or they are in cognitive dissonance. I think a lot of these people, new urbanists, are just out and out con artists. They see the same numbers, but they go out and say things that they know are false.

I’ve been in the middle of debates where when you’re talking to them their stories shift dramatically. First it’s going to improve transportation. Then when you say blah, blah, blah, blab-blah the numbers show otherwise; then they say “well it‘s really not about transportation, it’s about choice.” Then you go from the argument about choice to it’s about “world-class cities”; it’s always a shifting argument. At some point or another, you have to say “Well, you’re just a bullshit artist.”

This is no different than dealing with a con artist that tries to take your money some other way.

I rarely have the level of frustration in other arguments that I have with the urban planning arguments. Usually at the end of the day, you think you’re dealing with people who really want to do the right thing. You may never convince them. They may always question your motives and everything else, but you don’t thing “This guys trying to get away with something.” That’s exactly what I think of the new urbanists. I think they couldn’t give a damn what happens to these people because they’re disposable.

CW: People become a means to an end-- the plan -- and not the end in themselves.

Strom: Yes. Whether you define other people as ends in themselves or as means is how you determine if something is moral or not. Are you treating the people within the interaction as fully, realized legitimate beings, or are they simply tools. I still think that is a legitimate, fundamental question about how we create government, how we deal with each other both in the civil sphere and the governmental sphere.

The big difference between the way I see the world and I think people on the left see the world is they don’t distinguish between those two spheres -- the personal and the political. This is the fundamental error that they have made that has horrible consequences, but it is an error they have made.

The reason they look back and say the reason you [conservatives] are bad is, they think that you cut off, illegitimately, the extension of human compassion and love and all of those things at a place where it ought to extend.

I see the political sphere and the civil sphere as fundamentally different -- the tools are different. I’m as entrepreneurial and capitalist as you can find in the political sphere, but in the civil sphere I believe that compassion and love, willingness to help others, ought to be dominant.

Even to a certain extent within the economic sphere, although it gets blurry. Companies are often like families. Sometimes you do have firing -- I’ve had to do that myself -- and it is extremely painful. whereas it is not painful for me to work to defeat someone in politics -- he might be a reasonably nice guy, but I still want to see him out of there because he‘s doing the wrong things.

CW: That’s probably a good place to end. I just need a column headline, David.

Strom: Alright.

CW: Have you ever had lust in your heart?

Strom: [Laughing] I’ve never not had lust in my heart.

CW: Thank you, David Strom. You’re now off the “Lennie’s Honey Weiss Hot Seat.“

Strom: This was fun.

[Actual Post Date: 5/4/05]