Is the world’s most interesting man running for president?

Andrew Yang

Forget about the guy who used to sell Dos Equis.

The world’s most interesting man is Andrew Yang.

OK, maybe he’s the world’s second most interesting man. The world’s most interesting man is Elon Musk. But Yang is a close second.

And Yang is hands down the most interesting man (or woman) running for president this year. He’s so interesting that Elon Musk endorsed him last Saturday.

“I support Yang,” Musk tweeted on Saturday, adding in a follow-up tweet, “He would [be] our first openly goth president. I think this is very important.”

The goth reference is to an interview of Yang last April by Ashley Reese at the Jezebel website. The first half-dozen questions were about Yang’s musical tastes while he was a teenager. (He was into The Smiths and The Cure.)

The interview was headlined “Andrew Yang Wants to Be America’s First Ex-Goth President.”

Musk’s support is based on more than the music or the culture.

Yang’s big idea, which he calls The Freedom Dividend, is to give every American adult over the age of 18 a $1,000 a month universal basic income (UBI) for life, an idea Musk has long supported. On Saturday he tweeted that it’s “obviously needed.”

Yang told Jezebel that getting a UBI plan passed was the reason he decided to run for president.

“After Trump won, I became convinced that the main reason he won is that we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin… And now we’re going to do the same thing to millions of retail jobs, call-center jobs, truck-driving jobs, and accounting jobs… financial planners, insurance agents and lawyers…”

His website points to a study that predicted one-third of American workers will lose their jobs to automation by 2030. This has “the potential to destabilize our economy and society if unaddressed,” it says, and that a UBI is necessary “to support and preserve a robust consumer economy.”

Moreover, a UBI would serve to compensate work like child care and taking care of the aged, work that is done without pay by tens of millions today, mostly by women.

Yang would pay for the Freedom Dividend, which would come to more than $2 trillion a year, with a 10 percent value added tax (VAT). Tech companies whose innovations will create the putative wave of unemployment and which, like Amazon, pay little or no income tax, would be targeted. Another funding source would be a number of federal welfare programs it would displace.

Interesting big idea there.

But it isn’t the big ideas that make Yang’s campaign interesting and seductive. It’s the sheer number of small ideas for solving small issues he tosses out. His website lists dozens of issues other candidates don’t think to address and scores of solutions to them.

Among other things, he supports:

• 12-year terms for senators and congressmen and 18-year terms for Supreme Court justices

• Ranked choice voting

• Making Election Day a national holiday

• Establishing data as a property right of individuals

• Lowering the voting age to 16

• Legalizing marijuana and decriminalizing opioids

• Pay for elite college athletes

• Expediting the construction of a new generation of nuclear power plants

• Free marriage counseling for all

• Reducing harm to children caused by smart phones

• Reverse boot camp to prepare veterans leaving the service for return to civilian life

• Establishing a hotline where people can report intrusive and offensive robo-calls to the FCC

• Allowing Americans to direct 1 percent of their taxes to the specific federal projects or departments of their choice.

• Reducing packaging waste

• Ending the coinage and use of pennies

• Making tax-paying patriotic and fun.

And so on. There are dozens more.

I can’t think of a candidate in my lifetime who has more exuberantly thrown out so many ideas on so many issues in a campaign. Yang may be many things, but “inscrutable” ain’t one of them. It sets him apart. It makes him an American original.

Yang’s platform is a mash-up of standard Democratic Party fare and off-the-wall originality. Some of his ideas are stunningly creative, others are deliciously eccentric, still others are just wrong. But can he win on them?  

It could happen. American politics has a long tradition of candidates coming seemingly out of nowhere with disruptive ideas that shred the conventional wisdom. Yang has a ton of them.

Apart from the ideas, a common quality of these candidates is that the political establishment almost always sees them as “un-presidential.” But the American people have a habit of thinking of “un-presidential” as a feature, not a bug. Think Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan, and, of course, Donald Trump. Yang is about as un-presidential as they come.

Campaigning on original ideas and solutions is an extremely powerful way to run for office. If your ideas catch on, you set the terms of the campaign’s conversation, which puts you in the catbird seat of politics.

Full disclosure: I’m a Republican. A lot of Yang’s ideas are deal breakers for me. Especially his views on gun control, which include every silly-ass, unworkable,  unconstitutional and treasonous idea the gun control movement has come up with in the last century. It will be a cold day in hell before I vote for him.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Yang breaks the mold, and that might make him the most formidable candidate the Dems could run against Trump.  

this opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

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