NY Times Bets on Free-Money Yang: ‘Substantive’ Pol’s 'Quest to ‘Make America Think Harder’

September 8th, 2019 7:06 AM

The lead National slot in Saturday’s New York Times was occupied by “Andrew Yang and the Passionate 2.6 Percent Lifting Him.” Reporter Matt Stevens hailed the low-polling 2020 Democrat’s plan to give $1000 a month to every American.

A weirdly affectionate tone toward Yang pervaded Stevens’ piece, putting in mind his fulsome prose over the re-emergence of Texas politician Wendy Davis (aka “Abortion Barbie”) in July.

The text box to Stevens’ profile of Yang was galling in its flattery:

“Andrew Yang’s Quest to ‘Make America Think Harder’ -- The entrepreneur turned presidential candidate is explaining automation to the masses. And as voters realize he is serious and substantive, he is gaining a passionate following.”

The introduction tried to charm the reader into liking Yang, too.

Meet Andrew Yang supporters and they often have a confession to make: When they first heard about Mr. Yang, they thought his plan to give every American adult $1,000 a month was a little crazy. But then, they will inevitably tell you, they heard him explain it, and it all started making sense.

“He was a meme -- his campaign was a joke,” said Ben Longchamp, 20, a college student from Atkinson, N.H., who first saw Mr. Yang speak in May, at a restaurant in Portsmouth. “I’ve seen 14 candidates at this point, and what I like about him is he has this one policy proposal and he has the data to back it up.”

Guaranteed-income plans have fans across the spectrum but are mostly concentrated on the left.

One of the most surprising developments of the 2020 presidential race has been the intensely loyal and passionate following for Mr. Yang, a former entrepreneur and tech executive making a bid for the Democratic nomination. Armed with numbers, history lessons and the occasional self-deprecating joke, he has been preaching a grim gospel about how automation will lead to mass unemployment and how corporate profits are warping the economy. Enough Americans have started to take him seriously that Mr. Yang has emerged as the surprise qualifier for a slimmed-down third Democratic debate, which will be held on Thursday in Houston.

After admitting Yang is “still polling in the low single digits,” Stevens sold Yang’s intellect.

But voters who attended his campaign events during a swing through New Hampshire last month rarely described him as a futurist fringe-candidate pitching a pie-in-the-sky plan. Instead, many said they had come to regard him as a smart, substantive and affable political outsider offering a thoughtful solution to an existential problem that other candidates have largely ignored.

Some caps are acceptable to wear, especially when bearing smug liberal messaging:

Mr. Yang has attracted an ideologically eclectic coalition that includes progressives, libertarians, disaffected voters and Trump supporters who have swapped their red MAGA hats for blue ones that say MATH -- “Make America Think Harder.”....

After a few mild observations about his fans skewing white and male and somewhat libertarian, Stevens tried to sell Yang’s money-for-nothing proposal.

When Mr. Trump was elected president in 2016, Mr. Yang says he started digging into data to try to understand why, and he found that millions of manufacturing jobs had been wiped out in swing states because of automation. It dawned on him that his good-faith effort to create jobs was wildly insufficient. A more sweeping solution was necessary: $1,000 a month for every American.

“Universal basic income is an amazingly hard policy to demonize,” said Matt Clark, 36, a college adviser from Massachusetts who supports the idea and believes Republicans will get behind it. “It’s super simple and it directly addresses so many Americans.”

Mr. Yang’s fixation on enriching the masses, along with his history as an entrepreneur, has made his personal wealth a popular Google search. As Mr. Yang’s campaign has gained relevance, his sources of income have come under increasing scrutiny.

But such mild commentary was more than offset by non-journalistic effusions like this, from a photo caption:

At Mr. Yang’s events in New Hampshire, supporters said they regarded him as a smart, substantive and affable political outsider offering a thoughtful solution to an existential problem.

Stevens closed with anecdotes from Massachusetts gardener Matthew Martin, “among those who said he was touched by Mr. Yang’s empathy.....As Mr. Yang signed MATH hats and took selfies a few steps away, Mr. Martin mused about how the campaign had grown and why he had traveled to be a part of it. ‘It’s very hard at first to get people on board with Andrew Yang,’ he said. ‘But after they listen, it can be transformative.’”

Yang’s version of Universal Basic Income(UBI) has been lauded in the press, even as his poll numbers remain in the low single digits.