Factions of both the Republican and Democratic parties are struggling to defend the political center against illiberal extremes. The country needs policies that can reverse our political and governmental dysfunction, advance the social welfare of all citizens, combat climate change, and confront the other forces that threaten our common interests. We launched the Vital Center podcast in February 2021 to explore solutions to the threats facing our democracy.

The podcast focuses on current politics seen in the context of our nation’s history. It highlights the policy initiatives of the Niskanen Center and other non-partisan institutions while drawing upon current academic scholarship and political literature from years past — including Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s 1949 classic “The Vital Center.”

The podcast is hosted by Geoffrey Kabaservice, Niskanen’s Vice President of Political Studies, with the regular participation of other Niskanen staff members.

You can find all episodes on this webpage, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts.


Episode 1: The Forces Behind the Radical Right, with Damon Linker

Episode 2: Why I Left the GOP, with Linda Chavez

Episode 3: The Man Behind the Modern Conservative Movement, with Sam Tanenhaus

Episode 4: Could Women Save the GOP by Running for Office? with Kodiak and Ariel Hill-Davis

Episode 5: The Rise of the “Establishment,” and Its Impact Today, with Aaron Renn

Episode 6: How Democrats Lost the Working Class, with Matt Karp

Episode 7: How to Fix Our Political Parties, with Rob Saldin

Episode 8: The Case for a Moderate Third Party, with Chris Vance

Episode 9: Moderate Conservatism as a Way to Protect Pre-modern Institutions, with R.R. Reno

Episode 10: What’s Behind the Illiberal Attack on Our Institutions, and How to Fight Back, with Jonathan Rauch

Episode 11: The Roots of Reactionary Conservatism, with Laura K. Field

Episode 12: The Role of the Corporate Elite in Politics, with Mark Mizruchi

Episode 13: Can America Untangle Itself from Red Tape? (With Philip K. Howard)

Episode 14: How to Bridge Our Divides and Find Our Shared American Identity, with Philippa Hughes

Episode 15: How to Confront the Growing Threat to American Democracy, with Tom Nichols

Episode 16: Dark Days in Washington, with A.B. Stoddard

Episode 17: The Last Liberal Republican President, with John R. Price

Episode 18: The Influence of Gingrich, the Triumph of Trump, and the Legacy of Conservative Court Appointments, with Jackie Calmes

Episode 19: How America Can Become a “Can Do” Country Again, with Philip Zelikow

Episode 20: Why the U.S. Government Can’t Seem to Get Anything Done Anymore, with Brink Lindsey

Episode 21: What’s a Principled Conservative to Do About Donald Trump? (With Mona Charen)

Episode 22: A Veteran Administrator’s Perspective on Higher Education, with Sam Chauncey

Episode 23: Looking at America from up High and on the Ground, with Jim Fallows

Episode 24: Re-centering the Democratic Party, with Elaine Kamarck

Episode 25: Abraham Lincoln as a Pragmatist and Peacemaker, with John Avlon

Episode 26: Why the Leading Challengers to Liberalism and Moderation Come from the West, with Aurelian Craiutu

Episode 27: Can Conservatism Ever Become Sensible Again (with Joshua Tait)

Episode 28: Will the American Conservative Movement Ever Value Liberty and Virtue Again? (With Stephanie Slade)

Episode 29: Reckoning with the Deep Structural Problems in our Democracy, with Greg Sargent

Episode 30: The Rise of the Ripon Society and Moderate Republicanism, with Emil Frankel

Episode 31: Michael Mazarr on American Decline and Possible Revival

Episode 32: Rising Political Violence in the U.S. and the Threat to U.S. Democracy, with Rachel Kleinfeld

Episode 33: Homophobia in the Mid-20th Century, with James Kirchick

Episode 34: Why Men and Boys are Falling Behind, with Richard V. Reeves

Episode 35: How Conservative Revolutionaries Paved the Way for Trump’s Populist Politics, with Nicole Hemmer

Episode 36: America’s Unfinished Civil War, with Jeremi Suri

Episode 37: Reclaiming libertarianism, with Andrew Koppleman

Episode 38: Larry Hogan’s GOP Alternative, with Mileah Kromer

Episode 39: The Paradoxical Life of J. Edgar Hoover, with Beverly Gage

Episode 40: Imagining a Better Future for American Democracy, with Suzette Brooks Masters

Episode 41: The GOP’s Faustian Bargain with Far-Right Extremism, with David Corn

Episode 42: Tackling Immigration Reform in a Divided Washington, with Kristie De Peña

Episode 43: Los Angeles in 1974 and the Politics of Culture, with Ronald Brownstein

Episode 44: How the John Birch Society Radicalized the American Right, with Matthew Dallek

Episode 45: How Ronald Reagan Ended the Cold War, with William Inboden

Episode 46: An Economic Agenda for a Divided Nation, with Isabel Sawhill

Episode 47: A Long-Term Success Strategy for Democrats, with Ruy Teixeira

Episode 48: How the Government Can Succeed in the Digital Age, with Jennifer Pahlka

Episode 49: Why Congress Needs to Be Revitalized, with Philip Wallach

Episode 50: How elites use zoning and NIMBYism to keep the working class out, with Richard Kahlenberg

Episode 51: Slouching Toward Utopia, with Brad DeLong

Episode 52: The Century-Long War for American Conservatism, with Matthew Continetti

Episode 53: Joe Biden as “The Last Politician,” with Franklin Foer

Episode 54: The Contested Meaning of American freedom, with Jefferson Cowie

Episode 55: The Two-Parent Privilege, with Melissa Kearney

Episode 56: The Political Reform that Might Matter Most, with Katherine Gehl

Episode 57: The Decline of the American Dream, with David Leonhardt

Episode 58: Seth D. Kaplan on How to Repair Our Fragile Society, One Neighborhood at a Time

Episode 59: Minnesota’s Progressive Republican Tradition, with Lori Sturdevant

Episode 60: Milton Friedman’s Unexpected Legacy, with Jennifer Burns

Episode 61: Is America’s past hurting us now? Deep dive with Fergus Bordewich

Episode 62: Illiberal vanguards in Russia and the U.S., with Alexandar Mihailovic

Episode 63: Conservative voices in 1960s campus activism, with Lauren Lassabe Shepherd

Episode 64: Understanding inequality and rising mortality rates in America, with Angus Deaton