The PODHEAD Guide to Political Pods
As the 2016 election enters its 437th month of nonstop coverage and Trump continues his tradition of saying eleven unbelievable things before breakfast, the absolute mountain of political news easily overwhelms the Average Joe. And boy, does he have less and less time to read it all. (Fewer and fewer time? Anyway.) At this point, it’s downright Sisyphean to weed out the excellent reporting and analysis from the schlock… But to that I would say: PODCASTS! Listen to podcasts while you’re running, listen while you’re doing the dishes, listen while you lie in the grass contemplating our dying sun: it’s the medium for ALL occasions. I listen to a metric tonne of podcasts each week and I wanted to highlight my few must-listens chronicling this Wacky & Crazy Election Season. So pop in your earbuds, get down in the grass, pause whatever you were listening to (I want your full attention) and read on.
Elections (Five Thirty Eight)
Five Thirty Eight, as most of you know, is a data and statistics site masquerading as a politics/pop culture/sports site. So, natch, it makes sense that their political podcast, Elections, is basically hard data analysis masquerading as a witty and well-informed conversation between friends. Nate Silver, the Wizard of Numbers™, and three other 538 staffers chat about the 2016 candidates and issues couched in polls, campaign war chests and other digits designed to give greater context to the conversation. Most punditry today is hot air and bluster but when it’s backed up by good ol’ solid numbers, that punditry ascends to Good Takes in a hurry. Led by genial host Jody Avirgan, Silver, astute reporter Clare Malone and data scientist/crotchety young man Harry Enten flip the ‘boring numbers podcast’ worry you’re already thinking about and deliver a genuinely interesting and entertaining look at a subject that can often confuse and alienate people. Elections will help you keep track of the see-sawing polling opinion of the American public by putting every little anti-semetic meme and FBI investigation ripple in the only context that really matters: cold hard numbers.
NPR Politics Podcast
The NPR Politics Podcast and Elections are pretty much two sides of the same coin. While certainly not spurning numbers, NPR’s stable of incisive and tireless reporters instead dresses the latest news with dispatches from the campaign trail and lessons from history. The unsinkable Sam Sanders hosts and brings an enthusiasm that’s almost unmatched in any news podcasts I’ve heard, making campaign finance reports cool and “right track/wrong track” polling downright fascinating. One major thing that sets NPR apart is their generous use of soundbites, whether it’s a clip of a Trump stump speech or the opinion of a random voter at a rally in Des Moines. These glimpses outside of the studio bring an authentic feel and richness to the show, a focus on the politics of life instead of quick-take punditry. Finally, there’s really something unique and rewarding about the presence of sometimes-panelist Ron Elving, a Washington DC editor/correspondent. The first thing you’ll notice is that Elving is older, a wise sage in this world of young podcasters, and with those years comes analysis and anecdotes that help to really put news in perspective. When Elving recalls the 1976 Democratic Convention or Ronald Reagan’s enduring popularity with conservatives, you’ll feel like you’re getting a fleeting dispatch from the sepia-toned past and a lesson better than any history book holds.
Keepin’ It 1600 (The Ringer)
If the previous two podcasts are the calculating pollster in the corner and the grizzled politics reporter typing away at her keyboard, Keepin’ It 1600 are the cool kids in the back, crackin’ wise and writing suprisingly elegant prose in permanent marker on their desks. Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer are both former Obama White House staffers: Favreau the precocious speechwriter and Pfieffer the cagey Communications Director. Because of this, 1600 absolutely oozes with a cocksure, insider-y ambiance that doesn’t turn you off but rather invites you into their world. Favreau and Pfieffer use stories about the vicious 2008 Democratic primary or the disastrous BP oil spill as a sort of portal into the minds of the Clinton campaign and, less often, the skeletal Trump campaign. It’s by far the funniest podcast on this list not only because it’s far from objective but also because the hosts will legitimately make you laugh. Listening to them talk about the blunders of the Trump campaign and election tribulations, you’ll hear burns and jokes lobbed in equal parts and punch lines that only people who have Played The Game could deliver.
Election Profit Makers
This was a late addition to the list but Election Profit Makers is such a delight that it had to be included. Plus, the High Priestess of Podcasting Starlee Kine produces this one and she’s a king-maker, let me tell ya, folks. Two lifelong friends, David Rees and Jon Kimball, bet real money on the election and all of the other current events in its wacky maelstrom, gloating adorably when they win and comically lamenting their woes when they lose. Kimball happens to be a sharp of sorts, schooling Rees on wager theory and insider scoops that help him decide how to bet. Part of the joy of this podcast is that Rees reacts to these things the exact way I would: wide eyed disbelief, gentle ribbing at Kimball’s impossible crystal ball and occasionally, howling laughter. It sort of makes me feel like I’m actually there! The way these hosts just pinball off of each other and current (betting) events of the day makes you glad to just be along for the ride. It’s the basement trash-talking and wager-making you need after the Actual Insight of previous three podcasts.
Well, that’s all I got for you, friends. Enjoy the pods and remember to always match every hour of political news intake with an hour of deep breathing while crossing your legs.