Opinion

Andrew Yang's failure is America's loss

His greatest strengths as a person were also his greatest weaknesses as a candidate

Andrew Yang surprised no one by dropping out early Tuesday evening when it had became clear that he would not place higher than sixth in the New Hampshire primary. His immediate response was to quip to journalists, "I can’t believe I lost to these people."

This is, simply put, not what you are supposed to say in these situations. But it was typical of the candor Yang exhibited throughout his ill-fated attempt to secure the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and it is as good an epitaph as any for one of the most memorable and interesting political campaigns in recent American history.

Last March, I called Yang "Ross Perot for millennials." This was meant as a compliment. Like Perot before him, Yang is a technocrat in the old-fashioned sense: someone who believes that democratic politics is not a millenarian contest of wills but a simple means of deciding the most prudential solutions to ordinary problems like securing employment and the provision of health care.

This is why Yang is probably the only candidate in American history whose campaign website has been worth visiting. Instead of the usual ambiguous platitudes under a handful of equally vague headings (Education, The Economy) its policy section detailed his views on an extraordinarily wide range of issues, from health care and infrastructure (which he wanted to hand over to a new federal department called the "Legion of Builders and Destroyers") to his so-called "Freedom Dividend," tort reform, postal banking, and the scourge of robo-calls. So far as I am aware, he is the only Democrat in the race who spoke at any length about the problem of smartphone addiction among young children or the importance of public funding for the arts, to name only two among dozens of issues. This stubborn practicality also explains why his campaign slogan consisted of a single word: "Math."

If his varied and occasionally quixotic platform had been the only thing that distinguished Yang from the rest of the Democratic field, he would probably not be worth remembering. But another thing that has been unfailingly clear to anyone who followed or interacted with Yang is the simple fact that in addition to being unusually clever for a politician he is a good and decent man. He also, perhaps fatally, has a sense of humor: when he began a response to a debate question about health care by observing "I'm Asian, so I know a lot of doctors," every horrified tweet from a journalist was met by a hundred thousand normal, socially well-adjusted Americans laughing.

These strengths — his no-nonsense interest in solutions and his fundamental humanity — were probably Yang's biggest weaknesses as a candidate. So much the worse for America.

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