KCRW's Left, Right & Center Left, Right & Center is KCRW's weekly civilized yet provocative confrontation over politics, policy and pop culture.
KCRW's Left, Right & Center

KCRW's Left, Right & Center


Left, Right & Center is KCRW's weekly civilized yet provocative confrontation over politics, policy and pop culture.

Most Recent Episodes


Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted on all counts in a Kenosha courtroom this week, successfully asserting self-defense against two counts of murder. Whether Rittenhouse committed a crime and whether he acted in a morally acceptable manner are two separate questions. Are Americans separating them appropriately? Josh Barro, Elizabeth Bruenig and Ross Douthat discuss the discourse: why have conservatives been rallying around Rittenhouse? Is vigilante justice conservative? Have certain voices on the left come to regret defending rioting and property damage last summer? Then: Serge Schmemann joins the panel to talk about Havana Syndrome, the mysterious illness affecting more than 200 U.S. service personnel, mostly posted abroad. Sufferers say they're experiencing ringing in the ears and a feeling of pressure in the head, among various other symptoms. Could this be the product of some secret Russian microwave gun? Or is it actually just a mass psychogenic illness caused by stress? And is the political infighting around the illness just a distraction from finding a way to help the afflicted? Finally: we take a deep dive into Ross Douthat's new book about his experience with chronic Lyme disease. Why has the disease become so controversial? All that plus why turkeys are bad, why too-long blockbuster movies are even worse, and why it's good Jerome Powell will stay at the Fed.

Concrete infrastructure

New infrastructure law just dropped. President Biden got to celebrate one of the biggest infrastructure spending bills of the past decade, while Republicans vented at each other about giving Democrats a (very expensive) win. Political showmanship aside, Biden's poll numbers aren't budging. Josh Barro, Elizabeth Bruenig and Tim Carney discuss the deal, if it will help Democrats, and how much will it help American households and the economy? Next on the show: who should get COVID booster shots? Some states are doing away with eligibility requirements entirely and asking everybody past that six-month mark to get a booster. On the federal level, guidelines remain convoluted – for example, you qualify for one if you were ever a smoker, depressed, or work in education, among other factors. What makes sense for guidance on this and mask mandates, and how does Pfizer's new antiviral pill change the pandemic response? Our special guest this week is Ali Wyne, a senior analyst at Eurasia Group's Global Macro Practice. He's on the show to help us understand the implications of President Biden's summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Monday (if you can call a Zoom meeting a summit). The meeting comes at a time of high tension between the two countries over human rights, trade and Taiwan – and also as they try to figure out how to work together on climate change. Finally, a very special announcement from Josh.


Inflation is at its highest in nearly three decades and that has big potential costs, but how much is it really under his control? Josh Barro, Elizabeth Bruenig and Ross Douthat kick around some ideas the president could try, whether it's a good idea to try them now, and how to fix the persistent weirdness in the American economy since the pandemic. Next: already it seems Democrats are recalibrating some positions since Glenn Youngkin's win in Virginia. The panel discusses voters' skepticism for politics and politicians when it seems like they're holding the ball on their true policy views, and if Republicans have picked a sustainable position on education. Our special guest this week is Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who has a new book, "Integrity Counts," about the now-famous phone call he received from President Trump about "finding" votes to put him ahead of Biden in Georgia. He tells the panel why he thinks the system isn't as broken as the right and left claim. Secretary Raffensperger also talks about Georgia's new voting law. Finally: devastating conspiracy theories about an already devastating tragedy in Houston; a rant about reactions to the Kyle Rittenhouse murder trial, and why you should leave your very personal aspects of your life in the private sphere...not in a national publication.

It wasn't just critical race theory

It's been a rough week for Democrats. They lost a governor's race in Virginia and just barely held on in New Jersey – and even in New York City, Democrats lost city council seats to Republicans. What does this national rejection mean for the midterm elections, and how did things go so wrong for them? First, we discuss why Glenn Youngkin won in a remarkably high turnout election in Virginia, and what was behind his gains in the suburbs and in diverse, historically Democratic cities. Did Donald Trump's endorsement play into it? Was it a bad strategic move for his Democratic opponent to compare him to the former president? Also on the show: why Youngkin's more centrist than the media says he is, and how his campaign on education was about a lot more than critical race theory. The panel talks through local races across the country and what they say about the issues voters care about. Voters in Minneapolis and St. Paul voted to establish rent control, and Boston elected a progressive mayor. Are places that aren't seeing a surge in crime and unrest actually more likely to want progressive policies? What does this mixed bag of results mean for the left? Plus, your weekly infrastructure update: Congress is very, very close to passing this bill (again). There's also a new (Liz says worse) resurrection of a paid leave program. But with the scores from this week's election, how much are voters counting on Democrats and President Biden to "build back better"? Finally: Sean Trende wants you to read Ulysses and if you're incensed by "let's go, Brandon," Liz and Josh implore you to chill out.


President Biden returned to Capitol Hill one more time...with a framework of what's supposed to be in the big spending package, for real this time. What's in: child care, universal pre-kindergarten and a tax credit for parents, big spending on climate change policies and more subsidies for people to buy health insurance. What's out: a heavily hacked-at paid leave program. Is this the final-final-final deal? Will Democrats agree on it? And what about the pay-fors? Who's rich enough to face a higher tax rate under this plan? And what about the cliffs and sunsets in this package? Many of these programs are currently temporary programs. Democrats are betting they'll be popular and Republicans will have no choice but to extend them. Josh Barro, Tim Carney, Liz Bruenig and special guest Matt Bruenig (it's Take Your Husband On LRC today) look at the big picture of this proposed social safety net. Then: national attention has turned to the Virginia governor's race next week, and much of that attention and local attention has revolved around schools: mask mandates, vaccine mandates, curriculum, assigned books and more. Finally: subsidizing the wealthiest, which end-of-the-year holiday Liz considers a bump in the road, and $5 gas in West Hollywood.

Bad news can be good news

For Democrats negotiating the Build Back Better plan, bad news is good news: because every disagreement means they're a step closer to passage. But to get there, they'll have to combine changes that satisfy both Joe Manchin and many Democrats' least favorite Democrat, Kyrsten Sinema. What's driving their motivations to block the bill from passing? Where are the hard asks? Could Sinema just be trying to fill up her campaign coffers by protecting big business interests, and what happens if she gets primaried? We discuss. Next: climate action policies are a major plank of Biden's agenda and there's a lot of agreement that it's needed. Are these the right policies? Will they achieve the benchmarks in the Paris agreement, and Biden's goals? This bill earmarks lots of money for green infrastructure like electric vehicle charging and renewable-friendly power grid upgrades. But is it too ambitious a plan? Do voters care about an issue whose impacts are so long-term and diffuse? Are climate subsidies the right tool to make the most impact? Joseph Majkut joins the show to analyze the bill and what it could mean for the United States and the rest of the world. Also in this bill: a child care plan, which has been under scrutiny this week. Does it have too many of the same features and pitfalls as the Affordable Care Act? Federal quality requirements add cost – and as with the ACA, many states are likely to be uncooperative in administering this Democrat-designed benefit. Should the government simply give money to families and let them decide how to spend it? And does the plan ignore parents who want to stay at home with their kids? Finally: friendly reminder that vaccines make you safer, not immortal; when your pandemic hairdo is a don't, and why you should consider the magic of radio if you'd rather be watching the game instead of driving Josh around LA.

Biden has 99 problems and the ports back logs are just one

The Port of Los Angeles will now be running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, under a new plan announced by President Biden. Right now his administration is juggling a lot of problems that are weighing down voter confidence in his presidency: supply chain logjams, rising inflation, a slowing job market and gridlock in Congress. The persistent list of problems now 10 months into Biden's first term runs counter to the "return to normal" message he successfully ran on when he beat then-President Trump in 2020. But is the president being proactive, or is he opening himself up to blame for problems plaguing the entire global supply chain that are mostly out of his control? This week, we bring on special guest Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report to talk about what voters want from the economy and the president right now. Some Americans are feeling a lingering sense of unease, as the country continues to face labor and goods shortages tied to the pandemic. Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats still can't come to an agreement to pass Biden's domestic agenda. How does political polarization affect the way voters think about the administration's handling of the economy? We discuss. Next on the show: Redistricting is underway as we head into next year's midterm elections. As was the case 10 years ago, Republicans have an advantage because they control more state legislatures, while some Democratic states, like California, have put redistricting decisions in the hands of independent commissions. But how many seats could Republicans realistically pick up next year through redistricting alone, especially since demographic changes in some major swing states would seem to favor Democrats? A hotly contested gubernatorial election in Virginia next month could give us some clues. Also, what the heck is 'bacon-mandering'? Then: our panel discusses vaccine mandates and religious exemptions, specifically among Catholics. The Catholic Church's official position is that getting vaccinated is morally permissible, but sincerely held religious beliefs should be honored as a valid basis for exemption. As vaccine mandates become more commonplace, how does society negotiate those tensions? Finally: Why adults need to stop making Halloween sexy, and why the "woke" Fed is really just doing its job.

We're doing this again?

It's been an especially stupid week in Congress. Members of Congress are fighting over the debt limit – an archaic, post-war provision from the 20th century. Both sides of the aisle agree that the debt limit needs to go up... but they disagree on how. Democrats can do this on their own. What are they afraid of? Attack ads? Taking up too much floor time when they have other legislation they could be working on, like the infrastructure bill and the spending bill that....they still haven't agreed on? Republicans say Democrats should raise the debt limit by themselves, but Democrats insist Republicans need to help them out. But just in the nick of time before a partial government shutdown, Republicans allowed Democrats to fund the government for about two more months, so over the holidays, we can do this all over again. Then: President Biden's approval rating is tanking. A new Quinnipiac poll puts him at just 38 percent approval on the job market and a dismal 25 percent approval rate on immigration. What's the source of this dissatisfaction?Could the problem just be that Biden isn't taking credit for the good things his presidency has done, and not "owning" enough conservatives? Next: Professor Kate Shaw joins the panel to talk about the controversial new law in Texas that bans abortions after six weeks, which was preliminarily enjoined this week by a federal judge. This might go all the way to the Supreme Court, which is already hearing oral arguments in December about a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks. Does the Constitution actually create a right to abortion? And if Roe is overturned, what can Democrats do to protect abortion access? And finally: having kids might not be that bad an idea, even today... but if you send them to school sick, Liz Bruenig has some words for you.

Uncontrolled spread

It's...past the wire for Democrats and their votes on two big spending packages that are the priorities of President Biden. As we recorded this episode Friday morning, the promised day for a House vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill had passed and Democrats were still fighting amongst themselves on both the price tag of the spending bill and what to prioritize between social and climate spending. All eyes are on the Progressive Caucus, Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema, and they're watching each other. Where will this end up? Then, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb talks about the major failures of the pandemic in the United States, why he has lots of feedback for the CDC in particular, and how approaching pandemics like national security threats could serve us better the next time around. All that, plus the media company that wasn't, moving the fences back, and some proof that vaccine mandates are effective.

Deep dives on Hispanic and Latino voters, and the future of abortion access in the US

This week, guest host and Left, Right & Center contributor Keli Goff takes a deep dive into two issues in the news right now. First: she speaks with Geraldo Cadava about what Democrats and Republicans misunderstand about the "Latino vote" and what they get right. Geraldo says the parties oversimplify voters' profiles and overlook important factors like geography, the rural/urban divide, class, and many others. Keli and Geraldo discuss the faults of thinking about groups of voters as monoliths — Keli points out that she longs for the day that campaigns approach Black voters like they would swing voters. What do we know about the appeal of the Republican party to Hispanic and Latino voters over the past few decades? And should Democrats be more concerned about whether their strategy is effective? Then, Keli discusses the new laws restricting abortion access in Texas with Gloria Feldt, former president of Planned Parenthood and president of Take The Lead, a national organization advocating for gender parity. Gloria talks about the slippery slope of similar laws, what she fears is ahead for abortion access, and makes a case for new laws that would guarantee women's rights to live as full citizens in the United States.

Deep dives on Hispanic and Latino voters, and the future of abortion access in the US