OK, so we know Rob Ford has done some Bad Stuff. For those who don’t, let me recap briefly:
He smoked crack cocaine, has been drunk in public multiple times, hung out with people with criminal connections and initially tried to lie about all this.
Even prior to that, he has been reported to be a bully with no regard to other people’s opinion and generally hard to work and/or compromise with.
That short list is usually a political career killer elsewhere. Not for Rob Ford – his popularity is still somewhere in the 40% region, which is pretty darn good for a Mayor of this city. What is different with Rob Ford? – or is it Toronto?
Some answers have been suggested. Most boil down to the fact that people want a conservative Mayor so badly that they don’t mind a little bit of crack habits to go with it.
Somehow that doesn’t sit well with me. People in Toronto want a Conservative Mayor? Since when is Toronto a bastion of Conservatism? Sure, there have been some inroads made last Federal election, but that’s far from a tectonic shift in Toronto’s political map.
But that argument is being taken seriously, and small- and big-C conservatives have sprang to their feet to distance themselves from Rob Ford. “He is not a real conservative” – they say. “His financial record is not that good“, “There are other good conservative mayoral candidates to choose from” – etc. etc.
I’m thinking of a different explanation: Rob Ford is popular precisely because he is so bad, and because our politics (on all levels!) has increasingly become about grabbing a bigger share of a government handout.
Consider this example: you have to send a representative to a meeting with a number of other people. The purpose of a meeting is to split a pie between all representatives, which will then give the shares to people who sent them. There are no rules: arguments can be made, bribes offered, alliances formed, even physical violence can be used.
You have two choices: one is an exemplary citizen with good manners, known to be sensitive to other people’s opinions, while the other is a bully and a gangster who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Who will you send to the meeting as your representative – provided all you want is a bigger piece of a pie?
There is no right answer to this of course, but you can see that a lot of people will opt for the bully, and not for the politician. How many people? About 40%, I’d say.
Granted, Rob Ford does not campaign on promising handouts. He is not vote-buying in that sense. What he promises is something more valuable to his voters: he promises to block others’ attempts to spend their money giving it out to interest groups. And he has hard fists to show that he may succeed.
The rest of his policies are not even very conservative: he still wants to build subsidized subways, and his financial “prudence” is limited to trying to find efficiencies – and I think we have learned by now that this can only have a limited success.
Rob Ford’s continued popularity only serves to highlight the sad state of today’s politics: it is no longer about fiscal prudence and good governance. It is about who gets a bigger piece of the handout pie.
- Rob Ford catches international attention with dance (cbc.ca)
- Rob Ford Goes to Church (gawker.com)
- Andrew Coyne: Rob Ford emblematic of the dark place where our politics are headed (vancouversun.com)