Despite bizarre moment, Yang delivers message in GC as caucus nears

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang (right) laughs as online prankster Davram Stiefler, one half of the comedy duo “The Good Liars,” holds a sign calling him a robot during a campaign town hall in Grundy Center on Friday afternoon. (Robert Maharry/The Grundy Register photo)
Robert Maharry
The Grundy Register

GRUNDY CENTER- With snow falling outside and Monday night’s caucus on the horizon, entrepreneur and Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang stopped at the Grundy Community Center for a town hall on Friday afternoon, drawing a crowd of locals, reporters, devotees from as far away as Alaska, and even pranksters.


A comedy duo known as “The Good Liars” interrupted Yang during his stump speech when one half of the duo, Jason Selvig, walked directly up to the candidate and asked him for an advance on his famed $1,000 a month “Freedom Dividend” before the other member, Davram Stiefler, pretended to usher Selvig off the stage then proceeded to reveal a sign that read “Andrew Yang is a Robot” and urged attendees to visit


“I think what we’ve got to let everyone know is that Andrew Yang talks a lot about robots, and it’s because he is a robot,” Stiefler said. “There’s only reason that he would say all these things about robots. It’s because he is a robot, and he’s trying to take all of our human jobs, including president.”


Selvig and Stiefler were booed offstage, left peacefully and were not arrested.


After receiving introductions from Iowa campaign chair Al Womble and Grundy County Democrats Chairwoman Tracy Freese, Yang cut straight to the core argument of his outsider campaign: that automation and big technology companies are disrupting professions that once provided good middle class jobs in rural areas, and any Democrat who wishes to win the presidency in 2020 must go beyond simply criticizing Donald Trump and offer concrete solutions to material issues.


In a lighthearted shot at the president, however, he joked that there were “900 people” at the event and urged Iowans to use the great power they have living in the first caucus state to propel him to the nomination.


Shifting gears toward a more serious dissertation on why Trump won Iowa, a traditional swing state, relatively easy in 2016, Yang asked the audience why they believed it happened and received answers ranging from “Russia” to “immigrants” to “Hillary Clinton” to “anti-establishment politics” to “social media.”


“These are the explanations, mixed together, that we’re presented with to say why Trump won. I’m a numbers guy, and the numbers tell a clear and direct story,” Yang said. “We eliminated four million manufacturing jobs in the last number of years in this country, and where were those jobs primarily located? Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Missouri and 40,000 right here in Iowa.”


He leveled specific criticism at Amazon for hollowing out retailers in small and medium sized cities around the country and lamented a coming wave of automation in the trucking industry, noting that a self-driving truck has already transported 20 tons of butter from California to Pennsylvania. He later drew a connection between the rise of large tech companies and the decline of local journalism, as thousands of community newspapers have gone out of business in the last decade.


“How can you vote on what’s going on in your community if literally no one is covering what’s going on in your community?” he asked.


Yang called the current changes in the economy “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” and added that he believes immigrants are receiving blame for problems they didn’t create. He went on to lay into politicians in Washington D.C. for being “25 years behind the curve” and failing to address the effects of technology and automation in a meaningful way.


“Donald Trump said he wanted to drain the swamp, (but) I want to do something a little bit different. I want to distribute the swamp,” Yang said. “Why do you employ hundreds of thousands of government workers in the most expensive city in your country? Why wouldn’t you move some of those jobs to Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa? You’d save billions of dollars immediately, and I would argue (that) those government agencies would make better decisions because they’re living some place normal and not in a D.C. bubble where they just talk to each other all the time.”


According to Yang, Universal Basic Income (UBI) proposals date back to founding fathers like Thomas Paine and have been popular throughout history with figures as politically diverse as Martin Luther King Jr. and Milton Friedman.


Before taking questions from the audience, Yang painted a picture of an America in stark contrast to the one that President Trump has often spoken of, particularly in regards to the economy: a place where income inequality, homelessness, depression, suicide, drug overdoses, gun violence, student loan debt and health insurance costs are at all-time highs, while the rates of young people starting businesses, getting married and having children are at all-time lows.


“This is where we are. We’re pretending corporate profits correspond to our well-being, when they’re actually heading in opposite directions,” Yang said. “I know how off base our current economic measurements are, in part because of our family.”


In conclusion, Yang conceded that while Trump seized upon economic anxieties and frustration with the status quo in Washington, D.C., he had failed to address these problems, and he pledged to bring an analytical approach to the presidency should he be elected in November, recycling one of his favorite sound bites.


“I’m the ideal candidate for this job because the opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math,” Yang said. “It’s your job to move this country we love so much not left, not right, but forward, and we know that’s just where you will take us.”



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