Left, Right & Center is KCRW’s weekly civilized yet provocative confrontation over politics, policy and pop culture.
The ‘I’ word: How we got here
If your grocery or gas bill weren’t enough of an indicator, inflation is here at historic levels. The consumer price index, which tracks how prices change over time, showed a 7% increase at the end of last year, which is the highest jump since 1982.
The Biden administration says this too shall pass. But voters are feeling sticker shock and aren’t giving the president good marks on the economy despite a strong job market, a low unemployment rate, and rising wages.
How did we get here? Are generous stimulus packages and tax credits to blame? Is there a way to move forward on spending bills with inflation in mind, and to get the sign-off of one Democratic senator from West Virginia? Guest host Jeremy Hobson brings on panelists Christine Emba and Alice Stewart to discuss.
Next: Voting rights are big on Biden’s agenda. On the heels of the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Capitol riots, the president and Vice President Kamala Harris travelled to Atlanta to make their biggest push yet for voting rights.
They’re encouraging Democrats to do away with the filibuster and get rid of the 60-vote threshold to pass a bill, all to pass comprehensive legislation to expand voting access to Americans. We bring on special guest and former congresswoman Jane Harman to discuss whether that’s a good idea, and whether it’s risky to excite Biden’s base if he can’t deliver.
Also, high-level talks took place this week between Washington, NATO and Russia amid fears of another Russian invasion of Ukraine. Vladimir Putin’s troops are looming over Ukraine’s border, and he’s demanding that NATO withdraw all allied troops from countries that border Russia.
That’s a key foreign policy test for President Biden, who’s had to deal with many a crisis abroad during his presidency between a trade war in China and an evacuation in Afghanistan. The million dollar question: What should the U.S. do if Putin invades Ukraine? Do economic sanctions even work? And if they don’t, what’s next for war-weary America?
And finally, GOP consultant Alice Stewart explains what’s wrong with shopping carts, Washington Post columnist Christine Emba says [Joe] Manchin and [Kyrsten] Sinema aren’t really Democrats, and host Jeremy Hobson explains one way the pandemic could be depoliticized.
January 6 Anniversary
We kick off a new year of Left Right & Center as the country reflects on the one-year anniversary of the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. Guest host Jeremy Hobson talks with Jamelle Bouie, Alice Stewart and Amy Walter about how the battle for voting rights has changed since last year’s insurrection as well as policy approaches to the Omicron surge.
Another massive Covid surge reminds us that the pandemic named for the year 2019 - is still kicking in 2022. Should President Biden be doing more to control Covid-19? What more can he do given that so many people aren’t getting vaccinated? Is it time for more carrots than sticks?
A year ago, on January 6th, Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. Is the investigation into that attack moving fast enough? Why do so many Republicans believe President Trump when he tells them the election was stolen? Democrats hope the anniversary will spur on voting rights reform in Congress. Is there any chance it will pass?
Josh Barro says farewell to Left, Right & Center
Welcome to Josh Barro’s final episode as host of Left, Right & Center. It’s a special episode with some of our most frequent panelists to close out 2021 and Josh’s seven-year run as host.
A lot has changed in the last seven years, and weirdly, a lot hasn’t. In this episode, you’ll hear clips from Josh’s first episode as host of Left, Right & Center in which he moderates a discussion of vaccine policy, mandates and vaccine skepticism. Can’t make this up! Back then, the issue was contentious but not hyper partisan. You’ll also hear Josh moderate a discussion about Donald Trump declaring his candidacy for president in 2015. It’s…a lot. LRC regulars Megan McArdle, Tim Carney, David Dayen and Keli Goff talk with Josh about how the Trump presidency and the pandemic have changed American politics and how the parties have changed, or failed to change, along with it. To mark this very transformative period for American politics and for Left, Right & Center too, Josh and the panelists make predictions about what the next seven years hold for us.
A special Left, Right & Center for the end of 2021
Well, it’s been a year: 2021 has been better than 2020 all told, but not as normal as hoped. It’s seemingly not as normal as the voters hoped it would be either, with President Biden’s approval ratings sliding from the summer on with inflation, resurgent covid cases, and a haphazard withdrawal from Afghanistan. So one year on, how is President Biden doing? And what can he do to right the ship before Democrats face voters next November?
On this special episode of Left, Right & Center, frequent panelists LANHEE CHEN, CHRISTINE EMBA, and GUSTAVO ARELLANO join departing host JOSH BARRO to look backward and forward. The panel discusses the highlights and the discontents of this year, hopes for what the government will do differently (and what will go differently) in 2022, the pluses and minuses of this economy, and the tools, both old and new, that could bring the virus under enough control for things to be close enough to normal…if we do things right.
A wave is building
The holidays are coming and so is the omicron wave. Well, that’s not great timing. Booster shots will help, and so many people have some immunity already from two doses of vaccine and/or prior infection. But we don’t have all the tools we might like to protect ourselves against a great deal of sickness and possible death. Josh Barro, Ross Douthat and Elizabeth Bruenig talk about living with the threat of illness and the different reactions at the extremes from right and left.
Then: Democrats’ spending plans have stalled and Senate Democrats are now saying they’re turning to voting rights, another legislative priority that’s also stalled. Are they just done with legislating for the year? Ross Douthat wrote a column this week on the New New Right: what they stand for, and whether voters will be attracted to their positions.
Small, better things
We’re in this for the long haul. As the omicron variant spreads throughout the country, one of the best tools we have in our arsenal are at-home rapid tests. But right now, they’re way too expensive and maybe out of stock at your local CVS. Is there a better way to do this? Probably, but it’ll require a lot more creativity from the Biden administration. Tests are free and plentiful elsewhere -- why shouldn’t tests be sent to every American?
From complaining about tests to complaining about Congress: the House passed a convoluted bill this week to raise the debt limit and hopefully prevent future government shutdowns, and the Build Back Better plan is still stuck in Congress because Joe Manchin wants fewer things done better, and it appears Mitch McConnell agrees with this too. Can Democrats find the middle ground between their welfare state goals and moderate policy objectives?
Our special guest this week is Paul D. Miller on the Summit For Democracy President Biden has convened, and what, if anything, can come out of a meeting of a global leaders on Zoom. What’s particularly striking about this summit is that it comes at a time where Russian troops are amassing at the Ukrainian border, and China is still in an aggressive posture toward Taiwan. What is the line the United States should draw that, if crossed, would trigger action?
Plus, Ross assails an assailing critique of the media, Liz is covered in puke and calling for family leave, and Josh says if you insist on using the term Latinx, you’re not doing your homework.