In Praise of Polarization

English: I took photo of William Lloyd Garriso...
English: Photo of William Lloyd Garrison at National Portrait Gallery. (Photo credit: Billy Hathorn)

Wikipedia defines political “polarization” as “the divergence of political attitudes to ideological extremes,” asserting that “when polarization occurs in a two-party system, like the United States, moderate voices often lose power and influence.”

According to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, American politics is currently extremely polarized in the sense that “Republicans and Democrats are further apart ideologically than at any point in recent history.”

Most political analysis assumes that polarization and “extremism” are bad things and that the best solutions to social problems lie somewhere in the “moderate” middle. I disagree.

Politics is, in large part, a process through which some people’s wealth is forcibly taken and given to other people.

Democratic “extremists” want to take your wealth and give it to “the poor.”

Republican “extremists” want to take your wealth and give it to “defense” contractors.

Democratic and Republican “moderates” make a show of “reaching across the aisle” to “compromise.” Their solution is to take your wealth and give it to “the poor” AND “defense” contractors.

If the “moderate” solution seems worse than either “extreme,” that’s because it is. The “moderate” middle is the worst of both worlds. Progressive populist Jim Hightower titled one of his books There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos. I don’t agree with Hightower on a lot, but he certainly nailed it with that title.

Answers to political problems, if they are to be found, will be found on the “extremes,” because all problems eventually break down to binary distinctions: Yes or no? Right or wrong? Trying to mix the two options via “moderation” and “compromise,” as Ayn Rand (a philosophical political opposite of Jim Hightower) wrote, fail because “[i]n any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.”

But what if BOTH “extremes” are wrong, as is the case in modern American politics? Better that the extremists be forced to publicly wallow in their errors than that they be allowed to disguise those errors in “moderate” rhetoric. Polarization is good because it exposes truth. And in this case the truth sends us looking for a third, better set of “extremists.”

William Lloyd Garrison, the namesake of the advocacy journalism center for which I write, exemplified this approach. He stood full force against chattel slavery for decades as the Democrats, Whigs, Free Soilers and Republicans floated multiple compromises, provisos and other schemes that culminated in the Civil War … and in complete victory for Garrison’s cause.

Libertarians are the third, correct “extreme.” We don’t want to take your wealth and redistribute it. Not to “the poor.” Not to “defense contractors.” Not to anyone. We think you’re a better judge than “extremists” or “moderates” of either major political party when it comes to how to spend what you earn.

So forget “moderation” and “compromise.” Time to get “extreme.” But search out the genuine libertarian article and accept no substitutes.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


And Then There Were 16: Perry Drops Out

Governor Rick Perry of Texas speaking at the R...
Governor Rick Perry of Texas speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. Please attribute to Gage Skidmore if used elsewhere. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I am neither a Republican nor a Rick Perry fan. Nonetheless I find Perry’s decision to drop out of the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination contest disheartening. Here’s why:

Like Perry or not, agree with him on the issues or not, he was arguably the single most experienced political executive in the race. He served three-and-a-half terms as governor of Texas, America’s second largest and second most populous state.

His executive experience arguably extended into foreign and trade policy more than that of most governors. Texas shares a long border with Mexico and boasts the busiest foreign-tonnage port in the US at Houston. And under Perry’s governorship, Texas did better than most states during the economic downturn on fronts like employment and family income.

Frankly, Perry was a dream candidate for Republicans who cared about executive ability, plausible policy proposals, and “getting things done.”

No, I wouldn’t have voted for him. I’m a political libertarian and a partisan Libertarian; he’s neither of those things.

But it boggles the mind that out of 17 “serious” candidates, Republicans chose to cut Perry from the pack first, panning him in polls and not funding his campaign. What’s going on here?

I wish I could report that Perry just isn’t libertarian enough for a Republican Party with a growing and powerful libertarian wing. But that’s not the problem. The GOP, after some flirtations with libertarianism during Ron Paul’s tenure in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail, has taken a hard turn back toward authoritarianism.

Perry’s problem seems to be that Republicans are looking for the flashiest demagogue they can find this election cycle.

Topping Perry for demagoguery on immigration was a tall order. After all, he’s the guy who deployed Texas’s National Guard to “secure the border” with Mexico. But he’s been, in a word, Trumped.

He’s the first, but won’t be the last, candidate to fall to the GOP’s sudden infatuation with flash over substance. Right now, the polls show Donald Trump way out front, with loose cannon Ben Carson in second place. Moving up fast: Carly Fiorina, whose only real qualification seems to be her gender (she was fired as CEO of Hewlett Packard, and her only real political experience consists of badly losing her race for US Senate from California).

The Democratic front-runners aren’t very attractive either. But they don’t really have to be. They’re set for a walkover unless the GOP gets its act together, which seems unlikely.

If you had high hopes for a real horse-race, you’re probably bummed out . But look at the bright side: Perhaps the Libertarian Party can take advantage of the major parties’ state of disarray and start a real discussion about America’s future.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Election 2016: Can John McAfee Change the Game?

The 2016 presidential election cycle got a lot more interesting on September 8 when John McAfee announced his candidacy under the banner of a newly formed “Cyber Party.”

McAfee, whose eponymous computer security software made him a multi-millionaire, sports a long record of public eccentricity that I need not waste words on here — you can look up if you’re interested. What’s important about his eccentricity is that where it touches on politics, he generally supports two important values: Freedom and privacy.

I’m definitely down with those twin emphases, and so far McAfee seems like the only bright light in a pretty dark and dismal presidential field. If the election was held today, he’d have my vote from among the declared candidates. But the election is 14 months away, and I have a few suggestions to offer McAfee for making the most of those months.

First, I hope he’ll forget his plans for a new political party. If he’s serious about freedom and privacy (and I believe he is), there’s already a party ready-made for his candidacy: The Libertarian Party.

Libertarians substantially agree with McAfee on the issues he cares about.

The Libertarian Party has a long record of securing ballot access for its candidates in all, or nearly all, of the 50 states. That alone would save McAfee millions in campaign costs versus establishing a new party (I speak from experience — in 2006 I founded a new political party; that party was only able to get on the 2008 presidential ballot in four states).

Additionally, the Libertarian Party will run hundreds, if not thousands, of down-ticket candidates in 2016 — candidates who also substantially agree with McAfee on the core issues. He doesn’t need to create a new movement. There’s a movement already in place and awaiting his leadership.

Beyond affiliating with the Libertarian Party instead of going it alone, I hope McAfee will identify freedom as the core issue and clearly mark out privacy as an emergent property of that issue, not a separate issue per se.

A well-known, reasonably well-financed Libertarian candidate who takes the US government to task for its depredations — in particular warrantless searches and wiretaps, wholesale eavesdropping on telecommunications, and imprisonment or exile of heroic whistleblowers who expose government abuses (Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, to name two) — could tear this presidential race wide open. And that’s something we desperately need.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.