This article originally was featured in The Federalist, dated January 18th, 2021.
Former Democratic Party presidential candidate Andrew Yang announced his candidacy for New York mayor on Jan. 14, and it’s time we set the record straight on him.
Despite a colorful ad featuring New York bodegas, his Asian-American credentials, and his fundraising prowess, Yang’s run for mayor is nothing like the barnstorming presidential candidacy in which he presented new ideas and interesting credentials as an entrepreneur and nonprofit founder. Yang has become a standard Democratic candidate who now upholds very standard and uninteresting Democratic positions.
His signature issue, universal basic income cash payments of $1,000 a month, has lost its luster as more Democrat candidates in New York City have co-opted the proposal. We have also seen the limited effects of universal cash payments, as the Trump administration has carried out effectively the same policy to perverse consequences, such as inflation, that would be worse if payments are carried out over the long term, as Yang proposes. Consumer prices for groceries remain up even as the supply chain has righted itself, and the average American will pay roughly $400 more in 2021 for groceries than she did in 2020.
Other than a universal basic income, Yang’s policy priorities for New Yorkers are uninspiring. He wants to form a government-run bank to pick and choose winners and losers in business. He wants to add new teachers to a public school system mismanaged by outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio. Although he has some other interesting ideas, such as fostering a startup incubator with $100 million in private capital, it is unclear where that money comes from or if he has the skill to raise it.
Yang’s most disheartening attribute is his quick descent from independent-minded freethinker to Democratic Party shill and coattails-rider. The quirky former presidential candidate came into national politics with concerns about automation taking away American jobs, admirably writing in his 2018 book, “The War on Normal People”: “America is starting 100,000 fewer businesses per year than it was only 12 years ago, and is in the midst of shedding millions of jobs due primarily to technological advances.”
Yang broke boundaries (not just racial) in his presidential campaign, appearing on Fox News, Joe Rogan’s podcast and “The View” to articulate his ideas, and he attracted young and tech-savvy voters known as the Yang Gang. At times, Yang wrote as an independent-minded and even admirable personality.
During the height of the lockdowns in 2020, Yang asked Asian-Americans to step up and become leaders in their communities, showing a gentle patriotism mixed with understanding about Asian-American fears. He wrote: “We Asian Americans need to embrace and show our American-ness in ways we never have before. We need to step up, help our neighbors, donate gear, vote, wear red white, and blue, volunteer, fund aid organizations, and do everything in our power to accelerate the end of this crisis.”
But after his presidential campaign ended, Yang ingratiated himself with the Democratic mainstream. He became a stump speaker for Joe Biden, who is hardly a reformer or changemaker by any stretch of the imagination, and capitulated to leftist identity politics by saying that a Biden-Harris win would be Asian-Americans’ best hope. He directed followers to move to Georgia for Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock before the runoff elections.
Now in his New York City mayoral campaign, he is promising free everything: from free money to free business bucks (at the mercy of the government, of course), to free college and forgiveness of college tuition. He has become a caricature of himself as free stuff Santa.
All the while, Yang has drifted further and further away from the concerns of ordinary Americans. In one interview at the start of his mayoral campaign, Yang said to The New York Times, “We live in a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. And so, like, can you imagine trying to have two kids on virtual school in a two-bedroom apartment, and then trying to do work yourself?”
It was a classically Yang kind of thing to say, but criticism mounted immediately over his out-of-touch words, especially since Yang owns a second home far away from the city in which he camped during the pandemic. Over Twitter, New York critics compared his comments to “let them eat cake.” Yang responded feistily: “Anyone who thinks my New Yorkness is in question,” he said, “should come and say it to my face.”
An early poll shows Yang up among the candidates for NYC mayor. But pitfalls can also follow high initial name-recognition. His record—or lack thereof—will be put through the meat-grinder in the New York political machine. Without a truly independent brand, Yang may prove to be ultimately indistinguishable from either his more liberal or conservative opponents.
Yang’s evaporation is surely disappointing. A promising outsider, a family man, and a man with intellectual credibility about the decline of middle-class America has become a shill for the Democratic Party, and New Yorkers shouldn’t expect much more.