Episode 99: Why would Iran give up its nukes?

When Iran decided to sign on to an agreement to curb its nuclear program, it joined an exclusive group of nations. Since 1945, 27 states have started and stopped nuclear weapons activity. And some of the members of that group might surprise you: South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Taiwan, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, Algeria, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Iraq – just to name a few.

On this week’s DecodeDC podcast, guest host Todd Zwillich talks with Rupal Mehta, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska, about why countries that start down the path of developing nuclear weapons decide to stop.

A key condition for nuclear reversal, Mehta says, is regime change. In the case of Iran, this happened in 2013 when President Hassan Rouhani was elected to replace hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“President Rouhani ran on a campaign of being more of a centrist, being more willing to engage with the U.S. and bringing the nuclear issue to forefront,” Mehta says.

At the time, the Arab spring was still reverberating throughout the region, and Mehta says this prompted the Iranian public to speak out “… to seek out those changes and to be very excited about a potential engagement with the U.S. and entrance into the global financial system and entrance into the international community more broadly.”

Learn more about the significance of regime change and other decisive factors as Mehta discusses Iran’s motivation.

Episode 98: Spirited History

Forget the debate over Alexander Hamilton’s spot on the ten-dollar bill. The founding father’s image may be better suited on a bottle of bourbon.

After all says Reid Mitenbuler, author of Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey, a true understanding of our nation’s history requires a lesson in whiskey history.

“When you look at bourbon,”says Mitenbuler, “you have this story aside from just the product that really is the story of America. And, a little more specifically, it’s the story of American business,”

On the latest DecodeDC podcast, guest host Todd Zwillich and Mitenbuler discuss a battle between two founding fathers—Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson—and how that battle has profoundly affected both American bourbon and business.

Episode 97: Tell me a (political) story

Political campaigns are about a lot of things: message, money, organization and of course, more money. But campaigns are also about storytelling.

Stories help candidates connect with voters, putting a human face on dry policy debates. Some politicians are born storytellers, while others need some help.

That’s where strategists like Burns Strider come in.

Strider is a long-time Democratic operative who has worked on more than 100 campaigns, including as the head of faith outreach for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

On the latest DecodeDC podcast, guest host Michelle Cottle chats with Strider about political storytelling, which he sees as the heart and soul of American politics.

“A candidate’s job is to share themselves with the American people. And the stories, the narrative has to be real. It has to be honest. It has to be told,” says Strider.

Strider’s storytelling craft extends beyond just the candidates. Lately, he’s been helping train a pro-Hillary Clinton army of workers at the grassroots level, organizing classes to teach people how to tell their own personal stories about Clinton.

“You have to equip and empower surrogates out around the country, and let it work its way down and sideways and up and about in a campaign and in your body of supporters, and have them telling your story too,” Strider explains.

Strider admits that it’s a little ironic that he’s part of a team of people behind the scenes carefully crafting the “authentic” image of a candidate. But at the end of the day, he says you can’t fool the American voter.

Episode 96: Revisiting Populism's Popularity

The number keeps growing but at the moment there are 22 noble or nutty (you pick) souls running for president – and the election is still 16 months away.

One of them, Bernie Sanders, says he is a socialist, whatever that means in 2015 America. Sanders certainly does, however, fit in to the great American populist tradition, so we thought this would be the perfect time to rerun our podcast on the origins of populism.

Despite Sanders' years in high office, he is an iconoclast and a lonely voice. He wants to soak the rich, use the money to hire people to build roads and bridges, cap CEO pay, install universal health insurance and get big money out of politics.

We mostly think of populism as coming from the left. History says otherwise. Populism is more a style of politics than an ideology, an outlook suspicious of elites and infatuated by the wisdom and rights of the People. Since the word “populism” emerged in the late 19th century, there have been populist movements on the left and the right. 

We asked Michael Kazin, one of the great historians of populism, to talk to us about the populist tradition. His 1995 book, "The Populist Persuasion," is considered a classic. He also has written a biography of the founding father of American populism, William Jennings Bryan.

For its long history, populism has never really persuaded American voters and has only flirted with real political power. The populists of the left and right rarely seize common ground; they scare each other.  But populist persuasion does make things interesting for the rest of us.

[Also by Dick Meyer: High court aligned with public opinion]

Want to keep up with all the latest DecodeDC stories and podcasts? Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and sign up for our weekly newsletter at decodedc.com/newsletter.

Episode 95: SCOTUS: The People's Court?

The Supreme Court’s term has ended with two supreme-sized rulings, one affirming a right to same-sex marriage, the other upholding the Affordable Care Act.  Overall, the conventional rap on the term has been that it was a decidedly liberal year for the conservative Roberts court.

That’s true but simplistic, according to Stuart Taylor Jr., whom we brought in to decode the court’s most recent pronouncements on this week's podcast. Taylor graduated from Harvard Law School and went on to cover the Supreme Court for the National Journal, The New York Times, Newsweek, The American Lawyer and other publications. He's also the co-author of “Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It's Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won't Admit It” and “Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Fraud.”

Taylor’s take is that the Chief Justice John Roberts’ court is much more aligned with mainstream public opinion than people give it credit for. There are four consistent conservative justices and four liberals, and Justice Anthony Kennedy wanders between camps. The end result over the years has been a trail of opinions that well represent public opinion.

But a certain partisanship on the court, Taylor says, is inevitable. 

The Constitution simply does not have direct and obvious guidance on many of the issues and social conflicts the court has to adjudicate in the modern world: same-sex marriage, abortion, lethal injections and so forth. The cases that come to the court are close calls, with strong arguments on every side. All the justices believe their opinions are the most faithful to the Constitution. Ultimately, Taylor argues, the justices’ broader views on policy and political philosophy tip the scales.

And with the legislative and executive branches so often tied up in partisan and petty knots, the judiciary ends up as the final voice more often than ideal, as with Obamacare this year.  All these are reasons why the Supreme Court may be the most intellectually interesting political game in town.

Music for this episode of DecodeDC courtesy of Thijs BosHex CougarJoss Ryan, and The Quadraphonnes.

Want to keep up with all the latest DecodeDC stories and podcasts? Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and sign up for our weekly newsletter at decodedc.com/newsletter.