Alright, I think it’s about time for a revamp. When I first tried to put this together, I was only a few months into my little pet project. Now that I’ve got a better feel for the ecosystem, we can put a bit more thought and structure around this. So here you have it, in four parts:
These are the podcasts that position themselves in or around the center. I consider them partners in the project of rebuilding the American middle.
Left, Right, and Center: The centrist classic, LRC has been around for a while and has been doing the centrist dance long before it became fashionable. They do a show every Friday with a balanced discussion around the main news stories of the week, typically featuring one liberal, one conservative, and one centrist. They also recently added an interview segment, which gives the show some extra depth. I find that the show describes itself pretty well: “a civilized yet provocative antidote to the screaming talking heads that dominate political debate.” The panelists sometimes talk past each other and don’t always get down to the crux of the matter, but ultimately, LRC is your best bet for legitimate debate and discussion on the topics of the day.
The Ragin’ Moderate Podcast: This podcast takes a less topical approach, with each episode as a singular deep-dive on a particular question or subject. No panels here. For each episode, the RM team tries to thread the needle between various partisan clichés, exploring the potential for a centrist vision for that subject. Consensus building, in other words. You won’t always agree with every single point made on every single issue, but at the end of the day this show will give you a fantastic rundown of the subject matter at hand, while pointing you in new directions that you may not have considered previously. The singular focus for each episode also gives the podcast more long-term relevance, making the back catalog worth a binge, if you’re so inclined.
Rant and Reason: A newcomer on the scene, this show features a principled conservative and a principled liberal working together to tackle America’s growing divide. This show is great if you want to see a strong example of left and right mixing it up in the middle and having a reasonable discussion. It is indeed possible. The hosts are also exceedingly calm and collected, which can act as a soothing balm for those burned by all the searingly hot takes out there. The show features a variable weekly format, hosting a full-fledged weekly episode on Thursdays, alongside a “Meme Monday” segment where they break down the popular rhetoric floating around social media.
The polls, the public
Any good centrist should take a vested interest in public opinion, data, and trends. You gotta know what people are thinking. This is easier said than done, of course. Polling is tricky, so you have to examine every question with intense scrutiny. The headline numbers rarely mean what you think they mean, and there are all kinds of actors in the mix playing statistical games with the raw data. These podcasts will help you find the signal in the noise and make sense of what the American public is thinking.
FiveThirtyEight’s Politics Podcast: One of my all time favorites, this podcast was formerly filed under “liberal.” But in the 2nd edition, it finds it’s more natural home under the polling section. No doubt, the podcast has a slight liberal lean. But the data-driven perspective grounds everything with a strong, empirical foundation. Also, the hosts are contrarian to a fault, so they tend to catch themselves in fascinating ways whenever they drift too far into partisan territory. This show will make you smarter on all things politics, covering the polls in depth while also keeping an eye on campaigns, legislation, data trends, and even a little palace intrigue here and there.
The Pollsters: While FiveThirtyEight gives you a journalistic look at data and the polls, The Pollsters will give you the “industry perspective.” Margie O’Mara (Democrat) and Kristin Soltis Anderson (Republican) are two of the best in the business, so when they take time out of their week to give you an update, it’s worth a listen. This podcast is laser-focused on polling and public opinion – so if that’s all you’re looking for, then this is the podcast for you. Every week they do a rundown on the polls making the rounds in political circles and on social media. They dig into the questions and the results for each survey, trying to cut through the partisan nonsense and give a better gauge of where America stands on the big issues (and sometimes the small issues, too).
These are the podcasts that constitute, in my opinion, the best of the left.
Slate’s Political Gabfest: One of the original and most popular podcasts on the left, the Political Gabfest is one of your best sources for a blend of liberal/progressive views on the news of the week. The show is released every Thursday night and features a free-ranging discussion on a handful of topics. John Dickerson holds down the center, Emily Bazelon is simply brilliant, and David Plotz has a strange obsession with playing devil’s advocate, which altogether leads to plenty of constructive discussion. There’s more than enough substance to make it worth your time, especially for conservatives looking for a different point of view.
On the Media: This podcast puts us in very liberal territory, but OTM is definitely an excellent listening choice. Unlike most of this list, this is not a roundtable-style discussion. It’s not really a podcast at all, but more of a radio show, with a variety of in-depth stories and interviews. They do superb work, placing a critical lens on the general media landscape and doing tons of high-quality original reporting. Definitely worth a listen.
With Friends Like These: From the show’s own description, this podcast is about “exploring division instead of putting it in side-by-side boxes on television, whether it’s a conversation about politics or religion, race or gender, or belief itself.” The show follows a one-on-one interview format (great for consensus building!), with host Ana Marie Cox working patiently to find both common ground and foundational points of disagreement, occasionally holding her guest’s feet to the fire when she sees fit. Because of the format, the show can vary wildly depending on if the guest is progressive or conservative. Nonetheless, this show is unique. I have tried to find a decent analog for it on the right and I have continually come up empty – which is honestly a shame, since it’s such a refreshing approach.
These are the podcasts that constitute, in my opinion, the best of the right.
Commentary Magazine Podcast: My favorite moderate conservatives, the Commentary podcast is about as close as you can get to a purely center-right show. For the most part they are all Never Trumpers and are highly critical of the administration, but they won’t hesitate to give credit to Trump and the GOP when they see fit (unlike the liberal podcasts above, where that almost never happens). The panel has gained a semi-joking reputation for their unique brand of “crushing morosity,” so if you like a splash of high-brow sarcasm in your feed, this could be the show for you.
Potomac Watch: The Wall Street Journal publishes this weekly podcast from their editorial team (opinion section, not the newsroom). It’s a solid show if you’re looking for a somewhat reasonable attempt at defining the “party line” for the current GOP. They will on occasion be critical of both Republicans and Trump, but by and large they always manage to find some kind of defense, excuse, or justification for conservative political maneuvers. Which is a good thing! That can be helpful if you find yourself wondering what that point of view might look like.
The Ben Shapiro Show: Ben Shapiro is about as far right as I can travel (I’ve never been shy about the fact that I lean left), but it’s generally worth the trip. Liberals will object vigorously to some of his more stubborn positions – especially on LGBTQ and minority issues – but there is generally enough substance and thought in Shapiro’s posture to keep things interesting. Regardless of whether or not he ever convinces you to change your mind, he will help you make your own positions sharper. He’s also quite popular and does an astonishing five shows a week, so if you have tons of time to kill, Ben can help you with that.