How has Joe Biden done in the first months of his presidency? What role might Donald Trump play in the Republican Party as we look ahead to 2022 and 2024? What challenges do the parties face—from the culture wars to economics? We are delighted to be joined for the first time on Conversations by James Carville, the veteran Democratic strategist. Carville expresses cautious optimism about the Biden presidency but highlights the fragility of the Democratic coalition—and the possibility, in 2022 and 2024, of missteps in the culture war overshadowing the successes of a Democratic administration. He warns his party about vulnerability on issues like defund the police and the talk of socialism. As for the Republicans, Carville argues that Trump is in a weaker position than one might have anticipated—and that Republicans have proven surprisingly unable to challenge Biden’s agenda much beyond opposing the Democratic Party and the media on cultural grounds. Finally, Carville shares advice for those aspiring to run for office, and shares fascinating anecdotes from his distinguished career in politics.

What makes a people a people? What forms its communal identity? The second book of the Bible, Exodus, tells of the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt, their journey through the wilderness, the giving of the law at Mount Sinai, the building of the tabernacle, and much else. Exodus and its abiding mysteries have been studied for millennia as a source for wisdom and understanding about theological questions as well as human affairs.  Joining us to discuss Exodus is Dr. Leon Kass, emeritus professor at the University of Chicago and emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Kass has just published the new book Founding God’s Nation: Reading Exodus, a monumental work in which he considers Exodus in a philosophical spirit, and shares striking insights on its theology, anthropology, and especially its politics. In this Conversation, he reflects on what he has learned through his study of Exodus—and argues that, regardless of our religious affiliation or beliefs, Exodus has much to teach those who read it with an open mind.

What are the latest developments in Russia with the Putin regime? How have recent protests surrounding the arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny affected it? What is the nature of Putin’s power and why have his tactics so often been effective? To discuss, Bill Kristol is joined again by former world chess champion and human rights activist Garry Kasparov. According to Kasparov, the recent protests have demonstrated deep dissatisfaction in Russia with the Putin regime and the depth of its corruption. However, Kasparov notes that Putin has proven stubbornly effective at maintaining power and may yet weather this and other challenges he faces. In response to Putin’s authoritarianism, Kasparov calls for America and the leaders of the West to develop a coherent strategy for countering Putin’s aggression and for defending the principles of liberty, democracy, and free markets that have been the source of our strength.

How should we think about fiscal stimulus in an era of low interest rates? Is $1.9 trillion too much? Is the proposed relief package sufficiently well targeted? In this Conversation, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers shares his analysis of the American economy and the challenges we face. Summers argues for substantial fiscal stimulus but emphasizes the importance of investments in infrastructure that could lay the groundwork for durable economic growth. Summers warns about the dangers of inflation—and especially if the accommodative fiscal and monetary policies of the crisis era become standard practice. Finally, Kristol and Summers discuss the state of higher education and how universities should conceive of their mission today.

Where do things stand in the US and around the world with Covid-19? How is the vaccine rollout affecting the course of the pandemic? How concerned should we be about new variants? When will we get kids back in school and the country open for business again? To discuss these and other questions, we are joined by Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. While noting the possibility of threats from new variants, Jha shares a guardedly optimistic perspective on a path to relative normality over the spring and summer, and into the fall. Jha argues we should focus on essential things: leading with the vaccine rollout, complemented by efforts to ramp up testing capacity to make crowded venues safer—and that we should devote ample energy and resources to resuming in-person learning as soon as possible. According to Jha, we can do better than the recent CDC guidance suggests and should be able to reopen most schools this spring.

In this special audio release, Claremont McKenna professor of political philosophy Mark Blitz talks to Bill Kristol about German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976). While stressing the problematic features of Heidegger’s thought and his deplorable political activity, Blitz explains why Heidegger cannot simply be ignored.

Video of Blitz and Kristol’s discussion about Heidegger (from 2016) is available through the Great Thinkers website, a guide to political philosophy.

What has the Covid-19 pandemic and the race for vaccines taught us about government and private sector capabilities? How should we think about questions related to free trade, the global economy, and collaboration among scientists internationally? According to Scott Lincicome, a leading international trade attorney and senior fellow at the Cato Institute, the pandemic powerfully demonstrates the importance of an America that is open to trade, scientific talent wherever it is found, and an economy that is open to the world. While not denying a pivotal role for government in the arc of scientific innovation, Lincicome argues that the private sector in America should focus on its traditional strengths in research and development while advancing trading relationships with our partners around the world. At the same time, he argues, we should resist the growing temptation to pick winners in the economy as it leads to cronyism and corruption.

While presidential transitions always present challenges, few take place in crisis situations like the one we confront today. What lessons can we learn from past transitions? How should the Biden administration navigate the complexities of the current moment? Joining us to consider these questions is Robert Gibbs, White House Press Secretary during the financial crisis and a key figure in the Obama administration. Gibbs reflects on lessons learned from that transition and experience. Turning to the present, Gibbs and Bill Kristol consider the Biden transition and the unique set of challenges the Biden administration confronts. The experience and insight Gibbs draws upon here is a valuable resource for thinking through how to navigate the tumultuous times we face.

Where do things stand in the race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden as we head into the final two months of the campaign? What strategies are the candidates pursuing? What pitfalls do they have to watch out for? What expected or unforeseen events might shape the race? Joining us this week is veteran Republican operative and frequent guest Mike Murphy. Kristol and Murphy consider possible paths forward for the election and particularly how undecided voters, in swing states like Florida, might play a decisive role in the outcome of the race.

How should we think about the American founding? What role does slavery play in the history of the United States? What should be done about Confederate monuments? How might we think about the legacies of revered figures from America’s past?
Over the past year, these perennially important questions have been unusually central to our public life.

In this Conversation, the distinguished Princeton historian Sean Wilentz shares his perspective on the current debates and the importance of the study of American history. Wilentz argues that understanding America’s past—from the inspiring to the shameful—is vital for what he calls informed citizenship. Nonetheless, he warns against falling into the trap of oversimplifying history. According to Wilentz, the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which argues that slavery is foundational to the United States, is one recent example of this pitfall, because it minimizes important anti-slavery efforts at the time of the American founding. Wilentz calls for renewed efforts toward a reflective and nuanced study of the past. He further asserts that these efforts could help us recover a space in American politics for informed, thoughtful, and respectful debate—not only about the past but also about the future. Wilentz and Kristol also discuss the legacy of civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis about whom Wilentz recently published a thoughtful and important reflection.