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Left, Right & Center
Left, Right & Center is KCRW’s weekly civilized yet provocative confrontation over politics, policy and pop culture.
3 days ago
Once more, with policy
It was the last debate of the campaign, and it was less crazy than the last one. NBC’s Kristen Welker kept it on lockdown with some help from a mute button. There was also a lot more policy discussion in this debate than the last. Josh Barro talks with Tim Carney and Christine Emba about President Trump and Joe Biden’s exchanges on schools and the coronavirus, immigration policy, a major hike to the minimum wage, race, criminal justice and corruption. By the time the debate aired Thursday night, more than 50 million people have already voted. Jessica Huseman of ProPublica talks about whether the long lines and technical issues from the early days of voting have persisted, the litigation over voting practices in Texas and Pennsylvania, and what to expect and when to expect it on election night.
Oct 16, 2020
This town hall ain’t big enough for the two of us
It was the week of dueling town halls. President Trump did not want to do a virtual debate but he’s trailing in the polls. Did his combative town hall with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie make the case that voters should change their minds and re-elect him? Christine Emba says the more people see of Trump being combative, it helps Biden. Or, as Tim Carney puts it, is Joe Biden rising in the polls because there’s been no effective critique of him from the right, the left, or the media? Josh Barro says Republicans appear to be preparing to lose the election and their last move — instead of working on another coronavirus relief package that might actually help them in this election — is to solidify a conservative majority on the Supreme Court as a bulwark to an impending Democratic majority in government. Tim Carney says that’s not really the whole story: this has always been Mitch McConnell’s aim. What did we learn from Amy Coney Barrett’s hearing? And have both the right and left gone astray with how they articulate the stakes of abortion access and prohibition in the US? Finally: Dr. Lauren Ancel Meyers of the University of Texas at Austin has developed a model to gauge the risks of reopening schools for in-person instruction based on the spread of the coronavirus in communities. She says most localities are taking baby steps based on what they see in the data — could, and should, they be more bold?
1 hr 1 min
Oct 9, 2020
Is the president a super spreader? President Trump’s doctors say he can resume public events soon — certainly what President Trump prefers, as he trails Joe Biden in the polls less than a month before Election Day — but is that really safe? Should Americans consider and judge Trump’s diagnosis and the fact that the virus spread among his staff and close contacts? Michael Brendan Dougherty says that’s fair. This week, President Trump appeared trapped between doing things to please his base and doing the right thing — largely viewed as favorable by the public — about the pandemic. Jamelle Bouie says the president has set himself up to be in this position: unable to do the politically smart thing, and that includes responding to the cluster of cases and his own illness in a smart way. Science journalist Christie Aschwanden discusses the cluster of cases at the White House and the treatments the president says cured him (though he also says he would have gotten better on his own), noting that even the limited information we have about the president’s condition and treatment points to a more severe case and that he may not be out of the woods yet. At Wednesday’s vice presidential debate, Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence argued over the Trump administration’s pandemic record. But would a Biden administration handle everything so differently? Finally, what’s with President Trump’s on-again, off-again push for a new stimulus bill. Does he actually want one, and why hasn’t he gotten it done, since it could help him get re-elected?
Oct 2, 2020
President Trump has tested positive for the coronavirus. Just days ago at the presidential debate, he mocked Joe Biden for wearing masks too much. After learning Hope Hicks, a top aide, had the virus, he still attended an in-person fundraiser with dozens of supporters. Does the president bear moral responsibility for taking excessive risks, contracting the virus and exposing others to it? Tuesday’s debate was a bit of a mess. Josh Barro empathizes with moderator Chris Wallace, and the panel considers what viewers learned in the debate. In his attempt to dominate the debate, Trump took heat for his unwillingness to condemn the Proud Boys, and his sinister take on voting and election legitimacy. Michael Brendan Dougherty wonders if the president has lost the ability to make a populist case for his presidency, or even tell a story about the corruption in Washington and why voters would still want him to be president? Jamelle Bouie says that if Trump had populist instincts, he wouldn’t have fought the Democrats on another coronavirus relief package. Speaking of: will Congress finally go for another round of coronavirus relief? On the Supreme Court, why are Republicans making assurances that even a court with a conservative majority won’t do what conservatives have asked it to do on abortion and Obamacare? Plus: remember the story about the president’s tax returns from the beginning of the week?
Sep 25, 2020
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the future of the Supreme Court
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead at 87. She leaves a legacy as a liberal icon, from her time litigating for equal rights before the court and from her 27 years serving on the bench. In the midst of fierce objections from Democrats in Congress, Republicans intend to replace her with a conservative, which will shift the Supreme Court firmly to the right. How would this affect American law in the long run, and more immediately, the challenge to the Affordable Care Act that the justices intend to hear right after the election? Should the Supreme Court — and its individual justices — have this much power? Josh Barro talks with Michael Brendan Dougherty, Jamelle Bouie and Emily Bazelon to talk about Justice Ginsburg’s legacy, what happens when the Supreme Court moves away from American public opinion, and how the Supreme Court’s power could be limited, and if it should be. Then: one of the Louisville police officers involved in the fatal raid on Breonna Taylor’s apartment has been indicted, but not for killing her. We’ll look at whether there was a viable avenue to prosecute, and whether reforms in Louisville will prevent similar botched raids in the future.
Sep 18, 2020
One Billion Americans
***Hi Left, Right & Center listeners: this week’s episode was recorded Friday morning before news broke that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died at 87 of pancreatic cancer. President Trump is fighting with his CDC director. Dr. Robert Redfield says we won’t likely have wide enough distribution of a potential coronavirus vaccine to return to normal life until the second or third quarter of next year. Anthony Fauci agrees with that rough timeline. But that’s not the full story: it will take months to get all those doses in people’s bodies and fighting the coronavirus. Josh Barro talks with Michael Brendan Dougherty and Jamelle Bouie about how Democrats can express concerns about Trump’s role in the vaccine process without scaring people away from an effective vaccine when it does come. Then, Matt Yglesias joins the panel to talk about his argument that the United States should have population one billion: how we could achieve it, and why America needs to be bigger to be better. Elizabeth Nolan Brown joins the conversation too.
1 hr 6 min
Sep 11, 2020
Wildfires are raging in the west. The pandemic is still raging, with nearly 200,000 Americans dead. What is the government doing? Congress still cannot agree on additional aid for Americans. President Trump has resorted to using disaster relief funds to pay for additional jobless benefits and is eyeing more executive action, but is there a bigger response coming for any of these crises? President Trump took a lot of heat for statements he made to journalist Bob Woodward, detailed in Woodward’s new book Rage, about how he knew how bad the coronavirus was and downplayed it on purpose to avert panic. Ariel Edwards-Levy (senior reporter and polling editor at the Huff Post) tells the panel about the state of the presidential race and sticks up for polling: why you should believe it more than a lot of people say they do.
Sep 10, 2020
Left, Right and Center Presents: Diaries of a Divided Nation 2020
Diaries of a Divided Nation: 2020 is a people’s history of the United States recorded in real time. Over the past year, a team of audio journalists have documented the lives of seven ordinary people with different views, living in different places, and with different stakes in politics. Each participant has recorded their thoughts and experiences as the extraordinary events of 2020 have unfolded. We hear from Americans in Texas, Iowa, Virginia, Washington, Alabama, Michigan and Kentucky among others.
Sep 4, 2020
Two trips to Kenosha
Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin this week, following the police shooting of Jacob Blake and subsequent protests, riots and looting. President Trump warned putting Democrats in power will lead to more of this sort of unrest. Joe Biden spoke in Pittsburgh to say riots are bad — which has been his position all along — and that Trump has fomented unrest with his divisiveness. A new wave of polls showed the presidential race little changed, not due to this news story, and not due to the conventions either. Then: Since students returned to campus at the University of Illinois one week ago, the university is processing more than 15,000 tests a day, accounting for as much as two percent of daily nationwide tests. This is part of the university’s plan for in-person instruction while preventing outbreaks. Dr. Rebecca Smith, a researcher and epidemiologist at the university, talks about how the program works, how it’s working so far, and where else this testing model could be appropriate. Jamelle Bouie and Michael Brendan Dougherty discuss the president’s executive actions for coronavirus relief, including the use of the Centers For Disease Control to stop evictions, and the outlook for a coronavirus relief package this month.
Aug 28, 2020
Is triggering the libs a policy platform?
President Trump accepted his party’s renomination to be president on the White House lawn, despite rules about not using government property for political purposes. He says he wants to unify the country and that Joe Biden is a Trojan horse for socialism who will demolish the suburbs and govern in thrall to Bernie Sanders. Josh Barro says that seems a little over the top. He recaps the GOP convention, President Trump’s nomination acceptance speech and the party’s overall message with new Right and Left panelists Michael Brendan Dougherty of National Review and Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times Tim Alberta says the GOP’s “we’re not that evil” message was directed at one class of persuadable voters the party cannot afford to lose en masse: college educated suburban voters, i.e. voters who aren’t running away from the Republican Party so much as they are sprinting away. According to public opinion, Americans say the most important issue facing the country is the coronavirus, so is it a good strategy for the Republican Party to talk about the coronavirus like it’s in the past? Michael Brendan Dougherty says it might work out that by November, voters will be more ready for President Trump’s outlook and tone. Jamelle Bouie says that will be a tough sell if the virus spikes in the fall, people are still out of work with their children attending school from home, and moreover, the theme of this race has been the steadiness of Biden’s lead over Trump. What was the GOP’s closing argument to voters? And is triggering the libs enough of a policy platform for Republican voters? Kenosha, Wisconsin has been rocked by protests and riots over another police shooting of a black man, plus counterprotesters, some of whom were essentially militia. One person shot and killed two demonstrators and wounded another. What will this mean for police reform and a 2020 campaign in which both parties have made policing a key issue?
Aug 21, 2020
One convention done, one to go
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are officially the presidential ticket for the Democratic Party. The virtual convention was a little awkward, but was it any more awkward than conventions usually are? Josh Barro, Megan McArdle and Dorian Warren talk about the case Democrats made for themselves this week and why some progressives felt they got short shrift. The panel also discusses Steve Bannon’s legal troubles and why his alleged scheme to rip off conseervative donors worked so well. Then: Rick Hasen joins for a conversation about trouble at the post office, and real election risks and a plan for preserving election legitimacy. He says some of the biggest risks are known, they’re not new and they have to do with election management. He makes case for flattening the ballot curve, being realistic about the timeline of ballot distribution and return in a pandemic, and not seeing every instance of incompetence as dysfunction on purpose. Then: with every passing week without a federal aid…
Aug 14, 2020
Biden / Harris
This week, Joe Biden announced California Senator Kamala Harris will be his running mate. The Left, Right & Center panel interprets the choice. Dorian Warren says this shows how the party has changed since 2016, she may mobilize more voters (especially as President Trump and the GOP attack her) and it says a lot about Biden’s leadership that he chose someone with whom he disagrees. Megan McArdle says she doesn’t see Harris bringing much to the ticket in terms of her policy stances or her legislative record, but this pick matters more than a normal presidency because she may succeed Biden if he runs for a second term. Congress has settled into a stalemate over coronavirus aid so President Trump signed some executive orders in an attempt to support the economy. What will they do, and what will they not do? And is it even legal? And is it good politics? Indivar Dutta-Gupta (co-executive director of the Georgetown Center for Poverty & Inequality) joins to talk about the mechanics and…
Aug 7, 2020
Left in the lurch
It’s August, the enhanced unemployment air ran out in July, and lawmakers in Washington don’t seem much closer to extending that and other aspects of the coronavirus aid. How long will be left in the lurch? And what do we make of the report that shows employment kept growing even as the epidemic got worse around the county? In July, about 1.8 million jobs were added and economist Betsy Stevenson has mixed feelings about it. She says economic recovery is very closely tied to virus control, which is not going very well, but we should also see this jobs report as proof that the first coronavirus aid packages have worked. Speaking of that, Republicans and Democrats are in a stalemate (as of this taping) over the next aid package. President Trump is getting frustrated and is threatening to act via executive order. Can he do that? Should he do that if Congress can’t break the stalemate? Josh Barro, Dorian Warren, Megan McCardle talk with Betsey Stevenson about the childcare crisis th…
Jul 31, 2020
What do we do now?
The US economy shrank at a record pace in the second quarter, contracting nearly ten percent. In the real world, that means tens of millions of Americans lost jobs and so many businesses were closed. We knew it wasn’t going to be good, but what’s worse is the recovery we were seeing in the late spring appears to have stalled. On top of that Congress isn’t even close to a solution for the expiring enhanced unemployment benefits that so many Americans are relying on through this crisis. So we wait. On today’s show Josh Barro, Dorian Warren, Megan McArdle and special guest Shai Akabas of the Bipartisan Policy Center talk about the state of the next relief package — is it a stimulus or not? — and the big missing piece of coronavirus economic policy: actually beating the virus. Then: pro sports are back, sort of. Pablo Torre of ESPN talks about the strategies that are working and what’s definitely not working as leagues resume or begin their seasons in our new reality.
Jul 24, 2020
Brinkmanship in a pandemic
Those enhanced unemployment benefits that have kept many American households afloat through the pandemic? They’re about to run out, and Congress is just now getting around to doing something about it. In the first week of negotiation, Republicans and Democrats are still far apart on another coronavirus relief package. Congress has played a game of brinkmanship with government shutdowns, but during a pandemic with millions of Americans out of work, it’s a different situation. Christine Emba says Americans don’t have the patience for this game when it affects the livelihoods of so many. Megan McArdle says Congress must envision a post-pandemic economy as it considers the appropriate relief efforts now. What else is Congress fighting over in the next bill, and how do we contend with the fact that many Americans won’t get much relief until many weeks or months from now? In Portland, federal agents are throwing protesters into unmarked vehicles. Why? Is there any proper role for th…
Jul 17, 2020
The economic recovery appears to be stalling as the coronavirus epidemic intensifies across the south and southwest. How did we get here? What are the policy failures that allow uncontrolled spread to resume? Why is there such a big testing backlog? And where do we go from here? Dr. Kavita Patel joins the panel to discuss. Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump has enjoyed higher public approval on his handling of the economy than on his overall job. Joe Biden released an economic plan last week that aims to dent the president’s advantage, in part by co-opting some of his themes about promoting manufacturing in the United States. He wants an expansive “buy American” program, big public spending on research and development to rely less on international supply chains, and a major public spending plan for the climate and environment. Does this mean that both Right and Left are ready to abandon neoliberal ideals of globalism? And is there a tradeoff between raising labor standards…
Jul 10, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic crisis is stretching on and the United States is in dire straits. Infections are surging in the south and west and there's doubt about whether schools can open safely for the new school year. Megan McArdle says the lags of this disease are contributing to serious policy disasters and many states are falling victim to normalcy bias, where, if it doesn't look like chaos, it's harder to persuade people and public officials to take appropriate action to prevent the situation from deteriorating. Dorian Warren says it is ultimately shameful that the United States is failing at virus mitigation. Then, Helen Alvare joins the panel to talk about the Supreme Court's final decisions. Was this term a major disappointment for conservatives? Chief Justice John Roberts promised to call balls and strikes, but might he be working towards a more long-sighted goal? Finally: Mexico's president visited President Trump in Washington this week, and Jose Diaz Briseno of Reforma tal…
Jul 3, 2020
Will it change us?
Halfway through an extremely eventful 2020, what is the outlook for persistent change? In this special midyear episode, Josh Barro speaks with Dorian Warren and Megan McArdle about whether this year’s events — in policing and racial justice, the economy, and public health — will make change in these areas more possible and more necessary. A lot of change is happening quickly. The government has spent trillions to support the economy, Americans’ lives are barely recognizable, and public opinion has moved faster than we’ve ever seen on issues related to race and policing. Will it change the country permanently? Positively? And what are we learning from these extraordinary months? Megan notes that many trends appear revolutionary in the short term but less so in the long term, citing how little changed after the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. She also says there are examples in our history of police reform and “defunding” actually backfiring, and reform may be more difficult…
Jun 26, 2020
The Center is right again
How’s this for a civilized yet provocative start to the show? This week, people finally started admitting Josh Barro has been right about Joe Biden. Though, for the record, a lot of people have been agreeing with him all along: voters. Now, many others are realizing maybe what America needs next in a president is a broadly acceptable leader with unifying messages that can make people feel good about the country again, and one who adopts broadly popular reform positions while resisting the pressure to be on the unpopular side of wedge issues. Well, on this show, we do a lot of disagreeing, and Megan McArdle and Christine Emba have some things to say about Josh’s victory lap. What everyone does agree on is that President Trump’s handling of national crises grew even more grim and it’s definitely not helping him in the polls. The sparsely attended Tulsa rally didn’t help either, nor do the spikes in covid-19 cases in the south and west. Progressives had a strong showing in Tues…
Jun 19, 2020
A big week at the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court delivered two major opinions this week and conservatives are not very happy with two Republican-appointed justices. Justice Neil Gorsuch — often held up as the example of why Republicans should tolerate President Trump’s antics — wrote the opinion in a 6-3 decision that said employers cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity because, well, Gorsuch argues that’s what the text of the law says. Might conservatives abandon textualism? Later in the week, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 the Trump administration improperly tried to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects from deportation many unauthorized immigrants who arrived in the country as minors. One way to read Chief Justice John Roberts’s opinion, Emily Bazelon says, is that he’s offended by the Trump administration’s sloppy lawyering. They should have been more clear about why they wanted to toss protections for Drea…
Jun 12, 2020
Biden’s lead widens
Lots of people in Washington seem to want more distance from President Trump as his actions have grown even more erratic and his poll numbers have deteriorated. This week, General Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff apologized for appearing with President Trump in that infamous church photo opp. Mitt Romney got a lot of attention for marching in support of Black Lives Matter. Michael Steele says it was partially political because the senator is unlikely to face retribution from his party or his constituents but it’s an important moral and personal move too. This week, there was a pretty big contrast between President Trump’s calls for “law and order” and Joe Biden’s empathy, and the polls show Biden with a growing lead over the president. It appears Biden is more open and interested in policies further to the left. He might not be a full-blown leftist, but he appears to be open to influence, Christine Emba says. Protests about policing are yielding govern…
Jun 5, 2020
Will waves of protest bring waves of change?
The killing of George Floyd by a white police officer who now faces murder charges set off a wave of peaceful protests nationwide. It also resulted in incidents of violence, with police officers blamed for using unnecessarily brutal methods to clear activists, while others have been accused of using the guise of activism to destroy and steal property. Meanwhile the president’s response has elicited criticism from some surprising sources, including the military community. The panel considers this moment: Does it represent a seismic shift? Will either party advocate real reform? The panel reacts with a mix of hope and reality. Plus: The Left has been clamoring for General Jim Mattis, President Trump’s former defense secretary, to speak out. Did he choose the right time? Will it matter what he’s said? And how much does it matter who Joe Biden picks to be his running mate? This episode of Left, Right & Center has an all-black panel: Keli Goff is the Center with Christine Emba on th…
1 hr 4 min
May 29, 2020
The death of George Floyd — who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for seven minutes in the process of arresting him — has reignited outrage over police treatment of black Americans. There have been protests in cities across the country in response to Floyd’s death and the recent deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and in Minneapolis, a level of unrest led the governor to call in the National Guard. The panel discusses what’s driving the protests and what governments can do to gain the public’s trust that justice will be done when police abuse power. Also on the show: Joe Biden has a plan for that. That’s what Matt Yglesias says: that Biden is the most progressive Democratic nominee ever with a long list of plans for progressive policy change. But will progressives believe that? And will conservatives be able to convince anyone that Biden is a radical? The United States Postal Service, like many institutions, faces financial trouble du…
May 22, 2020
Will President Trump ever wear a mask in public?
President Trump really doesn’t want to be photographed wearing a mask (even though he has a cool one with the Presidential Seal on it). But 72% of Americans say that they’re wearing masks all or most of the time when they’re out of the house. So why have masks become a political symbol? And will that interfere with efforts to contain the virus? Plus: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had a relative light touch when it came to lockdown orders and many critics warned of dire outcomes from that. Was Governor DeSantis right all along? Or has he just been lucky? Then: Frederick Hess, resident scholar and director of the Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, joins the panel to look at how the coronavirus is affecting education. Are students actually learning at home right now? Will schools be ready to open in the fall? And is there even enough money to pay for all the changes needed to make it work?
May 15, 2020
Obamagate! Wait, what’s Obamagate?
President Trump is very upset about Obamagate. It seems to have to do with his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn — who the president fired after he lied to Vice President Pence and the FBI, and who pleaded guilty to charges that the Department of Justice is now seeking to drop. Is this a really important political issue? Or is this just President Trump’s effort to talk about anything besides the pandemic? Plus: Will Joe Biden leave his basement? Or, does laying low draw the contrast with President Trump that works for his campaign? Does either candidate need to be worried about their campaign right now? Then: Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations joins the panel to grade the American and international response to the coronavirus pandemic. What happens when international institutions atrophy? This isn’t all President Trump’s fault: so far, the pandemic has highlighted changes to the international order that have put the US in a weaker posit…