Yearning for More Yang
It appears that I’m most impressed by a candidate who I’m almost certain can’t win. What a dilemma.
Every so often a candidate runs for president and ends up on the debate stage who so alters the thinking about not only the issues but also what it means to be a political thinker. This year that person is the entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
I first met Yang a couple months ago on the set of “Real Time with Bill Maher.” We guests stood in a gaggle just before showtime and made nervous conversation. He struck me then as completely relaxed, comfortable and sure of himself, not full of himself or trying desperately to impress.
You may think this a small thing, but I have been in journalism all my adult life, 26 years, and from the experience of meeting countless politicians I can tell you that this is rare. There is something overbearing about them. Greasy is the way I describe them: too slick and too slippery. They are also too forward — too in your face and in your space. What they consider connecting with people I consider glowering over people. What they consider their winning smile looks to me like a scary clown.
So yes, just the way he carried himself signaled that there was something different about this man. And during his opening interview on the show, while I was watching from the wings, I remember thinking to myself: This guy is impressive.
That was the same feeling I got during Wednesday night’s debate.
Yang seems to always approach his questions and answers from a different perspective, from a higher intellectual and logical plane. His answers were short, pithy and clear as a bell.
Yang is a futurist among conventionalists and Bolsheviks.
He is talking about a rise of the machines and valuations of uncompensated labor in a way that doesn’t sound fanciful and outlandish but prudent and necessary. (I do think some of it is fanciful, by the way.)
I believe that this is his gift: His ability to explain things, to educate without sounding elitist, to tell you something you don’t know without making you feel guilty for not knowing it.
Sure, I’m not certain America is ready for this $1,000-a-month scheme and his attempts to flip the Asian-guy-who-likes-math racial trope into a positive that works for him makes me uneasy every time I hear it.
But, when I see this guy — honest and unassuming — surrounded on a debate stage by these tacticians and poll watchers, the ones who shade the truth and blow with the wind, the ones consumed by ambition who think too much of themselves, he just stands out.
The fact that he doesn’t wear a tie is just a visual reminder that he is a nonconformist — in the best way — to our political pageantry.
As Yang said in one of his last exchanges of the night:
You know what the talking heads couldn’t stop talking about after the last debate? It’s not the fact that I’m somehow number four on the stage in national polling. It was the fact that I wasn’t wearing a tie. Instead of talking about automation and our future, including the fact that we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs, hu