The Yang gang: A step forward or backward?

Elena Roe, Staff Writer

Once dubbed “Generation Z’s candidate,” former United States presidential candidate Andrew Yang has made quite a splash in his entrance into New York City’s mayoral race. Despite his popularity among young people, New York’s Democrats have widely criticized him for his more moderate policies and his off-the-cuff, colloquial language (sound familiar?). And so, seeing as Yang has held a consistent lead throughout this race, the question remains: what would Yang’s mayorship mean for New York, and for the country as a whole?

Among more left-leaning Democrats, the name Andrew Yang certainly isn’t associated with ideal progressivism. His policies are markedly pro-business, and his proposed policy of increasing funding to the New York Police Department’s Asian Hate Crime Task Force is incredibly unpopular among many advocacy groups. Running in a Democratic city, Yang’s platform is certainly centrist in nature. On a national scale, however, the case can be made that Yang’s platform appeals to a very wide base. Universal basic income still stands as his flagship policy, alongside notable commitments to police reform, expansion of quality affordable and public housing, environmental justice and investment in education & vocational training (which, in the context of ever-increasing outsourcing of unskilled labor, is absolutely crucial). Additionally, Yang’s strong support for small businesses is undoubtedly the right move in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. At first glance, it seems like a pretty basic list of decently progressive things New York should already be doing. The problem is, it isn’t – and herein lies the main reason for Yang’s popularity.

Voters associate Yang’s campaign with two main things: energy and modernity. He’s a younger candidate with a young family, and his language and talking points denote forward thinking — not necessarily just in terms of policy, but that of what the future truly holds. The concept of being able to get a job doing manufacturing work or other labor for minimum wage and working one’s way up to a suitable living is a thing of the past at best. The U.S. minimum wage hasn’t been proportional to national productivity since the Reagan administration, costs of living are at an all-time high, and outsourcing and automation are beginning to affect the American economy in ways we don’t yet fully understand. This is functionally where Yang’s stated priorities lie: he’s preparing a late stage capitalist economy (that has little taste for the progressive policies which inevitably come next) for the jump into this century. 

Despite having no political experience, Yang is seen as a candidate that can breathe new life into the NYC political and economic sphere. He’s made it a point to care, to spread hope, and to challenge the conventions of neoliberalism in a way that isn’t necessarily unappealing to neoliberals. Can he really go beyond the unfulfilled promises of the incumbent Bill DeBlasio and other leaders who have been in politics since Vietnam? That remains to be seen, but in a nearly irreparably polarized political climate, a new strategy is undoubtedly needed.

Yang may not be the absolute ideal candidate for New York; there are certainly more informed, more experienced and more progressive candidates in the race that deserve the slot. However, his popularity among voters indicates a massive shift in not only New York’s political arena, but America’s. The American people aren’t looking for more empty promises of draining the proverbial swamp, nor are they looking to re-elect the same people who built a systematically flawed, corrupt society that has failed them time and time again. They’re looking for something different, and career politicians pretending they understand progressivism while continuing to pocket lobbyist funds simply won’t cut it for much longer. 

While Yang’s policies certainly need work, his campaign strategy is right on point; he focuses on unity, all while pushing policies that are palatable enough among centrists on both sides of the aisle to realistically be voted in at the national level. Democrats are making strides in the right direction, but must come to a consensus on what candidates and policies truly represent the future of their party (preferably not the watered-down, weirdly anti-business neoliberalism of decades past). Yang’s strategy is gaining traction in the microcosm that is New York City — a similar colloquial approach to progressivism on the national level may make the impossible task of destroying the exploitative mess that is trickle-down economics a reality among American voters. With some experience and real results, Yang could certainly be a viable pick for higher office; and by all accounts, the nation will need someone like him sooner than we may expect.

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