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Andrew Yang is the Democratic presidential candidate who wants to give everyone a thousand dollars a month. Yang has met the qualifications for the fall debates, something that cannot be said for several governors and members of Congress. NPR's Tamara Keith interviewed Yang for the NPR Politics Podcast.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Andrew Yang danced into the Plaistow, N.H., public library at 7 p.m. on Friday night to a standing room-only crowd who acted like a rock star had just entered the room.
UNIDENTIFIED YANG SUPPORTERS: (Chanting) Andrew, Andrew, Andrew, Andrew...
KEITH: His supporters tend to skew younger and more male, but the crowd was notably diverse in age, race and gender. There were so many people packed in, they were probably violating the fire code.
ANDREW YANG: So I'm just going to - what is the actual legal capacity of this room? OK. So there are exactly 163 people...
KEITH: There were way more than 163 people in that small room.
Yang is a serial entrepreneur who started a venture philanthropy nonprofit but became increasingly concerned with the threat to American jobs from automation and artificial intelligence. Unhappy with the answers he was getting from Washington, he decided to run for president. Yang argues that President Trump won in 2016 because automation destroyed millions of manufacturing jobs in key swing states.
YANG: And now what we did to the manufacturing jobs, we're going to do to the retail jobs, the call center jobs, the fast-food jobs, the truck driving jobs and on and on through the economy.
KEITH: His big pitch - the idea at the center of his campaign is a universal basic income plan he calls the Freedom Dividend, a thousand dollars a month to every U.S. citizen 18 and older. Take money from Amazon and Facebook and the Googles of this world and give it to every adult, struggling or not.
YANG: How are you going to spend a thousand dollars a month in real life?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Rent.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Tuition.
YANG: Rent, tuition, student loans.
KEITH: When Yang sat down with New Hampshire Public Radio's Casey McDermott and me, we asked him how he planned to make his proposal a reality. His response - if he wins the presidency, that will mean his idea has become a movement.
YANG: People will realize that we can build a trickle-up economy from ourselves, our families and our communities up. And the Democratic Party will be so thrilled to have beaten Donald Trump, they'll be looking and saying, we took a chance on Andrew Yang, and it worked. We beat Donald Trump. And then when I say, let's pass the Freedom Dividend, all the Democrats will be onboard. But here's the kicker. When you go to the Republicans and conservatives and say, it's Freedom Dividend time, they'll look at themselves and say, wait a minute; I don't dislike the dividend.
KEITH: Yang will be on the Democratic debate stage in September. And at the last debate on CNN, Yang staked out a position on climate change that was decidedly less hopeful than some of the other candidates.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
YANG: This is going to be a tough truth, but we are too late. We are 10 years too late. We need to do everything we can to start moving the climate in the right direction, but we also need to start moving our people to higher ground.
KEITH: And in our interview, he stood by that answer.
YANG: Most politicians will say we can do it; we can beat it. I just told the truth, which is that we're only 15% of the world's emissions. Even if we were to go zero-carbon, the Earth would continue to warm, in all likelihood, because of the energy composition of other countries.
KEITH: Yang says climate change is a catastrophe in the making, worse than anyone thinks. And he does offer solutions, like renewable energy and reforestation. But it all made me wonder.
Do you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist?
YANG: Well, if you think about it for a second - I've started several multimillion-dollar organizations, I'm running for president, and I'm currently either in fifth or sixth place depending upon where you look. You don't do any of these - those things if you're not an optimist.
KEITH: Yang believes strongly that his thousand-dollars-a-month plan is the only solution to the dark clouds he sees on the horizon.
YANG: I'm not someone holed up in my basement waiting for the waters to overtake me. I'm trying to fight it with every fiber of my being. And that, to me, speaks to my sense of the possibilities still in front of us. I'm a parent. I've got two young boys, and I'll be damned if I just rest while the future I see coming up just overtakes us all.
KEITH: And as he says, running for president is a uniquely optimistic endeavor.
Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.