Yang masters the politics of authenticity
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.