I thought political junkieism was a benign addiction. It no longer is. I’m not much of a television watcher but National Public Radio and the New York Times have been as welcome and as natural a part of daily life as sunlight. Politics is my fantasy football. Not so much anymore. And you can probably guess why.
The news is literally depressing. I cannot count the ways; the incivility, the racism, the sexism, the lies, the calculated actions that divide society rather than unite, the robbing of the poor and middle class to further enrich the wealthy. What churches, schools or parents espoused these values when we were growing up? Taxing graduate students on their free tuition? Eliminating the $250 deduction teachers can take when they pay for classroom supplies?I cannot hear his voice without cringing yet I cannot silence him.
A little perspective. We once had a President that talked like this in an exchange with New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Out of the blue I asked, “Have you ever read Reinhold Niebuhr?”
Obama’s tone changed. “I love him. He’s one of my favorite philosophers.”
So I asked, What do you take away from him?
“I take away,” Obama answered in a rush of words, “the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away … the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism.”
Trump would not have understood the quote much less have the ability to actually read one of Niebuhr’s books.
One way I’ve reduced the vexing noise is tuning into Podcasts. Chief among these is “Pod Save America” with former Obama White House staffers Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer and Tommy Vietor . They describe themselves as “a political podcast for people not yet ready to give up or go insane”. YES!
In a recent New York Times profile observed.
Like conservative talk radio or Fox News, “Pod Save America” is an authentic partisan response to the perceived failings of the mainstream media. While many conservatives hate the mainstream media for its supposed liberal bias, many liberals have come to despise what they see as its tendency toward false equivalence — a grievance particularly inflamed by the coverage of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. Liberals don’t want a hermetically sealed media ecosystem of their own, so much as one that does away with the pretense of kneejerk balance: a media that’s willing to say one side is worse than the other. “I screamed at the TV a lot in the White House,” Favreau says. He and his co-hosts particularly loathe the bipartisan on-air panels of blabbering pundits that cable networks deployed during the election. “If there is one way that I would sum up what the 2016 election was on cable news,” Lovett says, “it was world-class journalists interviewing morons.”
And it’s a reality check.
“Pod Save America,” to its hosts and its listeners, is a twice-weekly reality check. “I think that when you have a president gaslighting an entire nation,” Vietor says, “there’s a cathartic effect when you have a couple of people who worked in the White House who are like: ‘Hey, this is crazy. You’re right, he’s wrong.’ ”
And a call to action.
What is absent from the podcast, significantly, is any of the usual liberal squeamishness (or, depending on your point of view, principle) about using media as a tool of partisan advantage. Liberal activists point regretfully to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who in their Comedy Central heyday were happy to savage Republicans but refused to champion Democrats: In 2010, the pair drew some 215,000 people to the National Mall a few days before the midterm elections, only to keep the rally strictly nonpartisan. “Pod Save America,” by contrast, isn’t afraid to, as Ben Wikler of MoveOn puts it, “actually touch Excalibur.” At the theater in Richmond this month, shortly before bringing Northam and the rest of Virginia’s Democratic ticket onstage, Favreau asked the crowd: “Is everyone registered to vote? Is everyone going to be doing phone-banking and canvassing? Because if not, you have to leave.”
Bless you, Boys!
What are your favorite Podcasts?