Yang masters the pol­i­tics of au­then­tic­ity

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR. Ruben Navarrette’s email ad­dress is [email protected]­navar­rette.com. His daily pod­cast, “Navarrette Na­tion,” is avail­able through ev­ery pod­cast app.

There’s a new crew of po­lit­i­cal out­laws rid­ing roughshod over the 2020 Demo­cratic primary, and they call them­selves the Yang Gang.

These are the folks who have thrown their lot in with 44-year-old en­tre­pre­neur and lawyer An­drew Yang, a long­shot pres­i­den­tial can­di­date who is short on po­lit­i­cal smoke and mir­rors.

With Yang, what you see is what you get. And what you see is a hard worker who was ed­u­cated at Brown Univer­sity and Columbia Law School, wrote two books, and led a num­ber of star­tups be­fore launch­ing a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that aims to

cre­ate jobs in strug­gling U.S. cities.

All that, and he still seems like the un­der­achiever in his fam­ily. His par­ents are im­mi­grants from Tai­wan who worked their way to grad­u­ate de­grees. His fa­ther has a doc­tor­ate in physics, his mother has a master’s in sta­tis­tics, and his older brother has a doc­tor­ate in psy­chol­ogy.

Yang’s an­swers at the first two pres­i­den­tial de­bates – squeezed into seven or eight min­utes – tell us that he is a smart per­son. And the fact that he is one of just 10 can­di­dates who have, thus far, met the thresh­old to qual­ify for the third set of de­bates in Hous­ton in Septem­ber – at least 2% in four polls and do­na­tions from 130,000 unique donors – tells us that he might be in this game for a while.

The New York Times calls Yang “the in­ter­net’s fa­vorite can­di­date,” and his sup­port­ers in the Yang Gang make full use of so­cial me­dia plat­forms like Red­dit, Face­book, Twit­ter and In­sta­gram to pro­mote their guy.

Yang has got­ten this far be­cause he has fig­ured out what many can­di­dates for of­fice never get around to un­der­stand­ing: the in­gre­di­ents to a suc­cess­ful cam­paign. Of course, fundrais­ing dol­lars, poll num­bers, and me­dia at­ten­tion are im­por­tant. But, in or­der to get those things, you need to do these four things:

Be clear. Be pas­sion­ate. Be real. Be in­ter­est­ing.

The last one helped put Don­ald Trump in the White House. Love him or hate him, Trump grabs our in­ter­est – and won’t let it go. In 2016, he was more in­ter­est­ing than a dozen or so Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial also-rans, and Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton.

For most peo­ple, the first step to be­ing in­ter­est­ing is ap­pear­ing dif­fer­ent from the pack. You say or do some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary.

Not Trump. For him, “in­ter­est­ing” comes from talk­ing and think­ing like the rest of the pack. He’s the guy on a stool at the end of the bar, telling any­one who will lis­ten how the world ought to work.

It’s a sim­ple con­cept: If you’re run­ning for of­fice for the first time, and you want to get me­dia at­ten­tion, the first thing you have to do is get the at­ten­tion of the me­dia. You do that by mak­ing news.

But it’s also an im­por­tant con­cept. It scut­tles the as­sump­tion that it’s the job of the me­dia to make can­di­dates in­ter­est­ing. Ac­tu­ally, it’s their job to say, or do, things that

are in­ter­est­ing. If they can’t do that much, they shouldn’t run.

Mean­while, two lessthan-in­ter­est­ing can­di­dates re­cently left the field of 2020 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates. For­mer Colorado Gov. John Hick­en­looper and Wash­ing­ton Gov. Jay Inslee, we hardly knew ye. And many of us had just learned to spell your names.

Some can­di­dates seem to think that the way to ap­pear in­ter­est­ing is to jump on top of ta­bles, or im­ply their op­po­nent is a racist, or shout dur­ing de­bates.

Yang came across as in­ter­est­ing, and got my at­ten­tion, when he did some­thing that seemed to come nat­u­rally. He sobbed.

On Aug. 10, Yang was at a gun-safety fo­rum at the Iowa Events Cen­ter in Des Moines. A wo­man in the au­di­ence shared a per­sonal tragedy. Her 4-year-old daugh­ter was struck by a stray bul­let and killed in 2011, and her son – the girl’s twin brother – saw it hap­pen. Yang, whose two chil­dren are ages 6 and 3, was vis­i­bly shaken and asked the wo­man if he could give her a hug. She agreed. After­ward, Yang re­turned to the stage, still shaken. Plac­ing his hand over his face, he wept qui­etly. Ref­er­enc­ing his own chil­dren, he ex­plained: “I was imag­in­ing it was one of them that got shot and the other saw it. I’m so sorry.” Then, again, he broke down in tears.

More of this, please. Amer­ica is a real place full of real lives. It de­serves to be led by a real per­son.

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