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Where EAST meets the Northwest


YANG GANG. Democratic presidential candidate former technology executive Andrew Yang leans on his wife Evelyn while participating at a Fair Fight phone bank at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Unburdened by expectations and unbothered by political convention, the tech entrepreneur has spent months cruising around the country, mixing his dark warnings about Americaís new tech economy with doses of humor and unscripted bluntness. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

From The Asian Reporter, V29, #24 (December 16, 2019), pages 7 & 13.

Andrew Yang having fun, but Democratís message is serious

By Sara Burnett

The Associated Press

CHICAGO ó Of all the many Democrats running for president, Andrew Yang is having the most fun.

Unburdened by expectations and unbothered by political convention, the tech entrepreneur has spent months cruising around the country, mixing his dark warnings about Americaís new tech economy with doses of humor and unscripted bluntness.

He has crowd-surfed, skateboarded, and made memorable quips at nationally televised debates. At a new office opening in New Hampshire, he sprayed whipped cream from an aerosol can into the mouths of hyped-up supporters. Over the weekend in Las Vegas, he was raising money for his campaign at a high-roller poker tournament featuring World Series of Poker champions.

The formula has made him one of this 2020 campaignís phenomenons. His outsider bid is fuelled by policy, personality, and technology. Itís outlasted the White House campaigns this year of some governors and senators, and seems to be following the advice of a former state party chairman who said voters can tell whether candidates are enjoying themselves.

Yangís campaign may not have him on track to winning the nomination, but it may be delivering sober warnings to conventional Democrats about the kinds of voters theyíre leaving behind.

"You can tell if someoneís like gritting their teeth or if theyíre genuinely happy to be there and want to talk to you," Yang said between events at two Chicago universities, including a rally that drew about 1,500 people. The former state chairmanís guidance, he said, has "made it easier for me to lean into just how I would naturally be as a person."

"I think if people dig into my campaign they see itís a very, very serious message," Yang said. "We are going through the greatest economic transformation in our countryís history and we need to rewrite the rules of this economy to work for us. So people, I believe, are savvy enough to know that you can have a very, very serious message and actually enjoy yourself while youíre delivering it."

Yang was on the bubble to qualify for this monthís debate after appearing in the first five. He has hovered in the low single digits in polling along with several candidates who trail former Vice President Joe Biden, senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana.

But what started out as an overwhelmingly online fan base of predominantly male techie types has broadened its appeal. After initially self-funding, Yang raised $10 million in the third quarter. Thatís more than most rivals, and he said that "we are going to beat that by a mile" in the final three months of this year.

His supporters, known as the Yang Gang, often say the other Democrats in the race to take on President Donald Trump arenít speaking to them or their fears. Many of these backers are young people who say they donít feel aligned with either party.

Several who attended the Chicago events said they supported Sanders in 2016 but grew disillusioned after he didnít win the nomination. Many supported third-party candidates or just stayed home that Election Day, when Hillary Clinton led the ticket. And if Yang isnít the partyís nominee, they may do so again in 2020.

"A lot of people arenít trusting the mainstream political candidates and pundits on TV. Yang is kind of like a breath of fresh air," said Ethan Daniels, 23, who supported Sanders in 2016 but voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson in the general election. "I think thatís the reason why Trump won the election, because a lot of people are kind of getting tired of the staleness of these politicians who come through, and then nothing in their life changes."

Daniels finished college with degrees in sociology and criminal justice but is still looking for a job in his field. He said he first learned about Yang on a podcast hosted by comedian and former TV host Joe Rogan; that interview has more than 4.5 million views on YouTube. Daniels likes what Yang has to say about artificial intelligence, universal basic income, and video game addiction, topics he says other Democrats "donít want to talk about."

Daniels was among the supporters at the rally wearing blue caps and other items with MATH ó for "Make America Think Harder" ó on them. Itís Yangís twist on Trumpís "Make America Great Again" slogan. Yang says itís aimed at getting people to blame job losses across the Rust Belt on the changing economy, rather than immigrants. He argues Americans just need to "think harder" about solutions.

Yangís parents are Taiwanese immigrants. He says he was a "nerdy Asian kid" who skipped a grade in school and was especially scrawny. He was called racial epithets and got in a lot of fights, "which I generally lost."

After college at Brown University and law school at Columbia, Yang worked in the tech industry before starting a nonprofit that provided money to entrepreneurs. As he became focused on the toll of automation, he decided the best and necessary policy solution was a universal basic income. He decided that the fastest way to promote the ideas was "to run for president and win."

The "Freedom Dividends" that are now the signature policy of his campaign would provide every adult $1,000 per month, no strings attached, through a new tax on the companies benefitting most from automation. Yang says the money would give people breathing room to pay off debt, care for a sick family member, or buy things, and would improve Americansí mental health by alleviating financial stress.

His campaign has been trying it out, giving the $1,000 monthly checks to about a dozen people, That plan, announced during a debate this fall, led to questions about whether he was trying to pay for votes.

Joy McKinney, a Republican and evangelical, said she carefully researched universal basic income and Yangís other policies before joining the Yang Gang. The 50-year-old financial planner didnít vote in 2016 because she didnít like either Trump or Clinton. But sheís been moved to tears by videos of the people receiving those first $1,000 checks.

"Can you imagine a U.S. where everybody matters?" McKinney said. Thatís whatís compelling to me."

Presidential campaigns have long been a stage for new personalities or novel ideas that may catch on for a time. The 2012 cycle had Herman Cain and his "9-9-9" tax plan. The 1992 campaign had Ross Perot and his debt charts. Still, Yangís durability has caught many people by surprise. That may be a product of Yangís tech and marketing savvy, said presidential historian Mike Purdy.

"I think for most people heís still an aberration," he said.

But Yang said he sees the race in terms of odds. His odds of winning, he says, are better than the odds he had of getting this far.

"Weíve already done the hard part," he said.

Associated Press writers Hunter Woodall in Manchester, New Hampshire, Emily Swanson in Washington, and Michelle L. Price in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

 

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