Dec 23, 2021

My conversation with Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang on the campaign trail. Photo: Gage Skidmore
Andrew Yang on the campaign trail. Photo: Gage Skidmore

The former presidential candidate is launching a third party.

Andrew Yang seems to enjoy a challenge.

The businessman, attorney and entrepreneur started his political career by running for president in one of the most jam-packed, competitive Democratic primaries in U.S. history. After losing in that race, he decided to do arguably the second-hardest thing in politics: He ran for mayor of New York City, a race known for being a bruising, tabloid-crazy and often ugly and personal spectacle. At one point, he was even leading in the polls, though he eventually dropped out after falling behind in early ranked-choice voting returns.

Now, Yang is attempting something that may be even harder than becoming president, if that's possible: He's trying to start a thriving, competitive, and influential third national political party. He calls it the Forward party.

As far as a leader of a third party goes, Yang is a compelling prospect. While he ran for president as a Democrat, he has proven that he has broad appeal across partisan lines. During the 2020 race, much was made of the phenomenon of Yang drawing enthusiastic support from Trump voters. When he's talking about small businesses, the military, or some broader economic issues, you could easily mistake him for a more traditional Republican.

But he also fits the bill for many progressives: His signature campaign plank is universal basic income, a proposal to give people a monthly stipend from the government, something akin to the child tax credit but mostly irrespective of income, marital, or employment status. He gets excited about big, wonky government proposals, preaches empathy for Americans who are struggling, and wants to go big on addressing climate change.

Even through the identity politics lens, he's a fit: He's the son of Taiwanese immigrants who came here in the 1960s and built a life for themselves. His father, Yang has noted on the campaign trail, grew up on a peanut farm living in a home without a floor. He went on to work for IBM and General Electric, garnering a total of 69 patents throughout his career. And now one of his sons is a successful entrepreneur and an influential figure in politics, and the other is a psychology professor at a prestigious university — a classic immigration success story.

Last week, on December 17th, Yang and I hopped on Zoom for a 45-minute chat to reflect on why he was doing this, what his plans are, and what’s coming. Many readers have written into Tangle over the last couple of years requesting an Andrew Yang interview, asking about third parties, wondering what I thought, and expressing their desire to see that come to fruition. Well, now, you may be getting your wish.

I tried to ask Yang some of the questions you want answered. Below, I've transcribed our entire conversation, with some light editing for clarity and length. We'll be releasing a recording of our conversation on the podcast in early 2022.

A brief warning: This edition does include some explicit language, which I've left uncensored.

Isaac Saul: So, as many of you know, I am currently quite sick with Covid-19 and have to apologize for my congested and raspy voice. But I was not going to take off work today because I was so excited about talking with our guest, a man who probably needs less of an introduction than pretty much anybody else we have had on the podcast so far: Mr. Andrew Yang. Andrew, thank you so much for joining us.

Andrew Yang: Thank you for having me, Isaac. Yes, Tangle, indeed. It's a tough one.

Isaac Saul: I am in it, man.

Andrew Yang: Oh, I feel for you. I had Covid. It sucks.

Isaac Saul: Yeah, I'm good. I mean, I got the double vaccine and the booster, so it kind of feels like I have a cold or something.

Andrew Yang: Nice job, man. Way to take care of yourself.

Isaac Saul: I appreciate it. So, listen, there are so many places we could start, but obviously, the last few years you've been quite busy. You ran for president, ran for mayor of New York City, you're mainstreaming the idea of universal basic income. But my understanding, and the reason I reached out to you to have you on today, is that in the last few months you've been working on a new idea. A new path forward that I have to say, my audience is probably more interested in than just about any audience you'll find. So maybe you can start by just telling us a little bit about what you've been up to and what you're working on right now.

Andrew Yang: Well, you know, certainly I love folks like you, who have been pounding the drum for a different approach to politics, for independence. I'm going to guess when you talk about your audience, there are people who feel politically homeless, they have realized the duopoly is not working. They didn't feel themselves drawn to either party. Is that all fair? Is that accurate?

Isaac Saul: I think that's pretty fair for a good chunk of my audience. Absolutely.

Andrew Yang:  Yeah, so I'm here to say, you are correct! [Laughs] I figured this out over 2020. I was researching for my book, I was trying to answer the most basic question, which is why do I feel so lousy about the future of the country? Why? I mean at this point, I think if you went around, the majority of us probably feel lousy.