Surveys tell us that Americans are increasingly dissatisfied with government institutions—from Congress and federal agencies to state and local governments. Given our aversion to taxes and bureaucracy, why do we demand the government do so much? And what can be done to improve the quality of our government’s performance?

In this provocative Conversation, University of Pennsylvania political scientist John J. Dilulio, Jr. argues that America does not have enough government workers to accomplish the tasks we demand of our government. Dilulio points to the paradox that we have not witnessed any increase in the federal workforce since the mid-1960s, while government spending has exploded since that time. Instead, the federal government has increasingly outsourced work to for-profit contractors, state and local employees who are de-facto federal workers, as well as non-profit workers. Making matters worse, we do not give the federal workers the discretion and oversight necessary to achieve good results. This “government by proxy,” according to Dilulio, is plagued by a lack of accountability, out-of-control spending, and poor outcomes. This is a must-listen podcast for anyone interested in the inner workings of American government.

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Born in 1950 in New York City and raised in Montreal, Charles Krauthammer, who died on June 21, 2018, was an indispensable voice in American public life for nearly four decades. His writing and speaking—covering politics, religion, technology, sports, and many other subjects—enriched American public life in a profound way. A staunch defender of American exceptionalism, he was one of the most eloquent writers of his generation. As Bill Kristol put it, he was that “rare combination of extraordinary courage and intellect.” Originally released in April 2015, this Conversation covers his education, his political reflections from the 1980s through to the present day, his upbringing in Quebec, his work in medicine, and his attachment to Israel and Zionism. In it, some of Krauthammer’s extraordinary wisdom, wit, and character come through.

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Why is Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America the best book “ever written on democracy and the best ever written on America?” Why is it indispensable both for understanding the country as well as defending it? In this Podcast, Harvey Mansfield, co-translator of Democracy in America (with Delba Winthrop), presents a detailed exposition of Tocqueville’s masterwork. Mansfield considers the major themes of Tocqueville’s work, including Tocqueville’s treatment of the idea of rights, the role of religion, men and women, self-government, and the relationship of liberty and equality. As Mansfield explains, Democracy in America advocates a more “political” version of the liberalism propagated by Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and other modern political philosophers. Americans, in Tocqueville’s account, learn the practice of self-government through the institutions they inherit and build upon. American practice therefore elevates the country and citizens above the individualism and narrow materialism that can follow from a liberalism too literally applied from a theory—e.g., the “state of nature.” As Mansfield puts it, Tocqueville remains even in our time the greatest resource we have for “defending a defensible liberalism.”

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How should we think about global warming and climate change? How can we develop a sensible strategy to confront a problem for which the risks are inherently difficult to predict with accuracy? And how might the risks from climate change compare with other threats we’ll face in the years ahead? In this Podcast, Jim Manzi, a leading technology entrepreneur, shares his perspective. In contrast to the maximalism we often hear in debates about climate change—“is the world going to end?” or “is this a hoax?”—Manzi urges us to think quantitatively about climate change and to pursue a strategy that would allow us to deal with a range of possible outcomes. Manzi explains why the predictions about climate are inherently uncertain—and warns against taxation that would not meaningfully affect climate change but would empower rivals to the United States like China. Instead, Manzi recommends “technology rather than taxation,” a strategy that emphasizes public and private investment in ambitious research toward technologies that will equip us to meet possible challenges and threats from climate change in the years to come.

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On how we can sustain economic growth, spur innovation, improve productivity, and ensure greater prosperity for the middle class. In this Conversation, businessman and best-selling author Edward Conard shares his perspective on how America can achieve these objectives. Conard counters the commonplace view, today, that the American middle class has been hollowed out and that economic mobility has stagnated. While recognizing a slowdown in productivity and growth in recent years, Conard considers the overall strength and diversity of the American economy, and the relative growth in middle-class incomes in America compared to peer groups in Europe as well as Japan. According to Conard, we must prioritize innovation and growth in order to meet today’s challenges—and he cites America’s opportunity to increase high-skilled immigration as the single best way to jumpstart innovation and productivity now and in the years to come.

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What is “identity politics”? How has it changed American culture? What are its political ramifications? In this podcast, the author and Atlantic Staff Writer Andrew Ferguson shares his perspective on identity politics and the condition of American culture today. Ferguson argues that the weakening of civic education in America created a void that identity politics has filled. Instead of attempting to think for themselves, many of our best and brightest students are attracted to championing identity groups (e.g. on the basis of race, gender, or class). According to Ferguson, this has made our civic life more contentious and has weakened our culture and institutions. Kristol and Ferguson also discuss the effects of identity politics in higher education—and consider alternative ways of fostering civic and liberal education.

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“[America], which promises freedom, can’t guarantee that freedom won’t be misused.” So argues Paul Cantor in our new Conversation. Drawing on his new book “Pop Culture and the Dark Side of the American Dream: Con Men, Gangsters, Drug Lords, and Zombies,” Cantor explains how a country that offers a fresh start to everyone inevitably produces many false starts and opportunities for con men, along with tragic examples of freedom misused and talent thwarted. Cantor traces this theme through American popular culture, focusing on Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” Francis Ford Coppola’s “Godfather” movies, and Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad.” These works, Cantor argues, exemplify what he calls the “dark side of the American dream.” This is a must-see Conversation for anyone interested in American culture and ideas.

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Does the rise of authoritarian powers represent an ideological threat to liberal democracy—or just a strategic challenge? Why must America defend the liberal order created after World War II? In this podcast, Robert Kagan, a historian and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, argues that authoritarian regimes represent an ideological as well as strategic threat to the America-led liberal democratic order. Drawing on his recent essay “The Strongmen Strike Back,” Kagan explains that authoritarian regimes—whatever their differences of character or policy—are united in their ideological opposition to liberalism, and have compelling reasons to try to subvert it wherever possible. Highlighting the growing dangers posed by aggressive authoritarian regimes, now armed with technologies of surveillance, Kagan explains why America must defend liberalism at home and the liberal democratic order abroad.

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What is the state of the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2020? In this Conversation, veteran political consultant and commentator Joe Trippi draws on his extensive experience in Democratic campaigns to assess. Will the ideological energy of the Democratic Party grassroots determine the nominee? Or will a “safe choice” prevail? Trippi highlights party regulars’ attention to electability, as well as the desire of many voters for a candidate who presents a strong contrast to President Trump in terms of character and style. According to Trippi, such a focus on electability could play a pivotal role in the candidacy of Joe Biden, who has the big advantage of having served as vice president to a president still popular in his party.

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Did James Madison invent the idea of the American founding? Why do we venerate the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and the figures who wrote and defended our founding documents? In this Conversation, University of Virginia politics professor James Ceaser explains how in 1787 James Madison deliberately encouraged the drafters of the Constitution in Philadelphia and other Americans to conceive of their project as a “founding.” Madison did so, according to Ceaser, to elevate the project beyond a mere exercise in day-to-day politics or ephemeral lawmaking. He wanted to encourage future generations to venerate—as well as rationally reflect—on the founders and the documents they produced. Ceaser argues that these efforts by Madison, as well as other founders, have had a profound effect on how Americans think about the role of reason, tradition, and law in politics. Kristol and Ceaser also consider the extent to which the Constitution and founders still influence our politics.

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Why is today’s Congress so dysfunctional? Are today’s legislators worse? What reforms could improve Congress?

Jeff Bergner has had a distinguished career in government, having served as Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs (2005 – 2008), Chief of Staff to Senator Richard Lugar, and Staff Director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Drawing on his new book “The Vanishing Congress,” Bergner shares his perspective on why Congress has increasingly ceded its Constitutional authority. Many have proposed fixes like campaign finance reform or term limits to solve these problems. But Bergner asserts that Congress has encumbered itself with many unhelpful practices. Bergner suggests reforms that might strengthen Congress, including trimming down Congressional staff and eliminating the Senate filibuster. Finally, Bill Kristol and Bergner discuss how the executive branch and legislative branch interact with one another, and how this relationship might be improved.

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Kristen Soltis Anderson is a pollster, author, and political analyst. In her second conversation with Bill Kristol, Anderson analyzes the latest data on the political, social, and cultural attitudes of the two youngest voting generations, “Millennials” (ages 23-38 in 2019) and “Generation Z” (ages 14-22 in 2019). According to Anderson, both of these generations continue their leftward political trajectory—a trend, she asserts, has accelerated during the presidency of Donald Trump. Anderson shares her perspective on what this data means for American politics in the short and medium term. Finally, Kristol and Anderson discuss how Republicans might broader their appeal to younger voters.

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Michael Strain is a scholar and director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. In this Conversation, Strain challenges the increasingly widespread notion that America is in decline economically—and reflects on the enduring importance of innovation and dynamism in the American economy. Highlighting measures like social mobility and increases in living standards, Strain argues that America remains robust economically even as globalization, technology, and other factors have presented and will continue to present serious challenges to the status quo. Finally, Strain points to several policy goals that promote innovation and growth—including high-skilled immigration, renewed focus on STEM, and investment in research and development—that could increase America’s economic performance.

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Harvard government professor Stephen Rosen assesses the current geopolitical environment, and considers America’s capacity to meet its foreign policy responsibilities and deter its adversaries. Detailing threats to America from a rising China, the success of bad actors in the Middle East, and other geopolitical turmoil, Rosen explains why America must compete in economic, political, and military arenas—and reflects on the deleterious consequences of American disengagement from the world.

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What does Aristotle have to teach us about democracy and the relationship of philosophy to politics? A profound treatment of this theme is found in “Aristotle: Democracy and Political Science” by Delba Winthrop (1945 – 2006), which has just been published by the University of Chicago Press. In his sixteenth appearance on Conversations, Harvey Mansfield draws on Winthrop’s book and her stunning interpretation of Book III of Aristotle’s “Politics.” Mansfield argues that the political quarrels in every city between a “democratic” party and an “oligarchic” party have something crucial to teach us about political science, natural science, and human nature. As Mansfield demonstrates, Aristotle’s “Politics” reveals that philosophers have something to learn from politics. And, if they do, according to Mansfield, “they’re no longer just natural philosophers but political philosophers. This would make political philosophy central to all philosophy. Politics shows you the central heterogeneity of things.”

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Veteran political strategist and commentator Mike Murphy assesses where the Republicans and the Democrats stand as we look toward 2020. What are President Trump’s prospects for reelection? Where are the divisions in the Democratic Party, and which Democratic candidates might prevail in the primaries? And could there be a successful primary challenge to Trump? Murphy shares his thoughts on these and other pressing questions with his usual blend of political insight and humor.

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Ronald Brownstein is a Senior Editor at The Atlantic, Senior Political Analyst at CNN, and a shrewd observer of American politics. In this Conversation, Brownstein shares his perspective on how the midterms reveal further intensification of the geographic and demographic divisions in American politics. Brownstein and Bill Kristol then look ahead to 2020. They assess the strengths and weaknesses of both parties, the key cultural and economic issues that are likely to feature in the campaigns, and whether President Trump might be vulnerable to a primary challenge. This is must-see electoral and political analysis at the highest level.

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Jack Goldsmith is a professor of law at Harvard University and served as Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel (2003-2004). In this Conversation, Goldsmith shares his perspective on America’s vulnerabilities to cyber attack—the complex and systemic threats to our digital and physical infrastructures, as well as to our politics via hacking and digital espionage. As Goldsmith explains, we have not done nearly enough to counter cyber threats through better defense or employment of countermeasures against adversaries. Finally, Kristol and Goldsmith consider what the government and private sector can do to improve our cybersecurity.

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Christine Rosen is an author, the managing editor of The Weekly Standard, and a columnist at Commentary. Rosen shares her perspective on the confused and confusing state of relations between men and women in contemporary America. According to Rosen, the #MeToo movement has shown how we lack the rules and even the language for understanding the new sets of challenges facing men and women today. In Rosen’s view, we can begin to address these challenges by encouraging young men and women to think not only of their rights but also of their responsibilities in a free society. Finally, Kristol and Rosen discuss why the study of history and literature can give us necessary perspective on the most important and contentious questions about men and women.

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Scott Lincicome is a leading international trade attorney, adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and senior visiting lecturer at Duke University. In this Conversation, Lincicome explains the system of free trade agreements and alliances that the U.S. has built over many decades and how the system contributes to peace and prosperity for America. Lincicome also shares his perspective on the renegotiation of NAFTA, the decision not to participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and other trade agreements. Finally, Kristol and Lincicome consider where Republicans and Democrats stand on trade today—and where the parties are likely to go in the future.

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