Left, Right & Center
LRC has been around since 1996, as a panel discussion featuring a centrist moderator and two contributors with strong political leanings. The show airs on Los Angeles’s NPR affiliate radio station, KCRW, but is also published on Friday evenings as a 60-minute podcast. Left, Right & Center covers bipartisan conversation over the previous week’s issues, providing slightly more time for retrospection than knee-jerk Twitter reactions and substantially less interruption and bickering than cable news panels. Left, Right & Center’s panelists rotate every few months, and episodes typically feature scholars on certain policy areas that the opinionated contributors discuss. Recent panelists have included Elizabeth Bruenig, columnist at the Times, Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, Megan McArdle, columnist at the Washington Post, and Jamelle Bouie, columnist at the Times. As a personal note: LRC is organized, collected, and nonetheless provocative, and it serves as my hour-long reprieve from bad faith political gesticulation.
Based in part on LRC’s renewed success since the beginning of the Trump era, the New York Times launched a similar show hosted by columnists Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg. There are several minute differences between this podcast and the previous one which may make it preferable for some listeners: first, The Argument has no moderator, and conversations between Douthat, Goldberg, and the other columnists that they frequently invite to the show tend to be less strictly organized and more collegial. Second, The Argument will often veer away from strictly topical issues, and examine political subjects that the 24/7 news cycle shifts to the backburner for months at a time. Consider, for instance, recent episodes with lengthy discussion on a leftist’s hope for a one-state solution in Israel, or the reorientation of American social philosophy around individualism, and not communitarianism. Finally, The Argument stands out because of its proximity to the powerhouse newsroom that is the Times itself. Contributors to the podcast often bring interesting insights on their own recent publications, and discuss their thought processes as they write the country’s most-read opinion pieces of the week.
FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast
You may know FiveThirtyEight as Nate Silver’s data journalism outlet, or as the source of ever-fluctuating odds on everything from the winner of Germany’s second-tier soccer league to Georgia’s senatorial special election. Silver himself joins a podcast with other political journalists to discuss news developments not from a policy analysis perspective, but from an electoral one. That means that if you have a political “horse-racing” itch that can’t be scratched, or if you require ever-more-frequent updates on what the latest news cycle likely means for voters in every demographic, this is your podcast. Silver is also well known for his election modeling—and often criticized for his analysis of polling in the leadup to the 2016 general election. Listening to this podcast you’ll hear his explanations of which polls are most trustworthy and how they all factor into election forecast models. A bonus: this podcast is recorded multiple times per week, and convenes for “emergency podcasts” when a seismic news cycle threatens to disrupt the political equilibrium. More content=better podcast, at least in my equation.
Hacks on Tap
From policy commentary and quantitative analysis we turn to pure electoral hackery. David Axelrod and Mike Murphy are both veteran political strategists—Axelrod ran Obama’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012, and Murphy has advised prominent Republicans like John McCain, Jeb Bush, Lamar Alexander, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The two are friendly and boisterous on their weekly, hour-long show; of all the podcasts in this list, you’re most likely to find frequent humor in this one. If you’re a listener who finds long political discussions in their purest form to be too frustrating or dull, Hacks on Tap may fit your taste better. Both Axelrod and Murphy bring interesting intra-campaign perspectives, analyzing how a particular ad buy or campaign speech figures into a greater electoral strategy and putting themselves in the shoes of current campaign officials like Bill Stepien and Jen O’Malley Dillon, who manage Trump’s and Biden’s campaigns, respectively.
The Bulwark remains a fledgling journalistic outlet, assembled just two years ago from former commentators at the Weekly Standard, which folded in December 2018. The publication is squarely conservative—but its founders Charlie Sykes and Bill Kristol are among the most prominent “Never Trump” Republicans in today’s media environment. Their podcast, hosted by Sykes and released nearly every day, discusses news events from a conservative policy perspective, while promising to be “smart, conservative, and never tribal.” Guests come from myriad Washington think tanks, including the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, and the Hudson Institute. Sykes and other Bulwark commentators are liable to provide frequent anti-Trump rhetoric, but find their niche when examining the structural problems they perceive in inter-party relationships and the dominant Republican electoral strategies in recent election cycles. A final personal note: I recommend this podcast particularly to liberals and progressives who find themselves at a loss for frequent and consistent conservative perspectives on policy and electoral outcomes.
We hope you enjoyed this first installment in Political Union’s media recommendations. We’ll be back with more explanatory content next week, and we hope to see you at this Monday’s Civics & Snacks with Kevin Kosar on absentee voting and obstacles to the election coming up next month.
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