Monday, May 27, 2013

A Man of the (Wrong) People

One of these things is very much like the other.
As I write this, Toronto mayor Rob Ford and his administration are doing their best impression of the Hindenburg's final moments in New Jersey. Staff members are lined up at the printer to grab copies of their resignation letters, while Ford hires unqualified football buddies to take their place. All that's missing from this scenario is a bunker and a girlfriend named Eva. If you're not from Toronto, Ford and his brother Doug are nose-deep in allegations that they have used and sold drugs. This is just the latest in an epic series of scandals, blunders and gaffes that Ford has embarrassed North America's fourth-largest city with.

But what might be the most discouraging part of this cartoonish fiasco arrives in the form of a poll showing that Ford appears to have the unwavering support of roughly a third of the electorate. Ford has done everything he possibly could to prove that he's incapable of holding elected office, but he's got a base of voters who just can't say no. The problem here isn't Ford, it's the voters. It's a sad fact that a certain percentage of the general public is pleased, even eager, to put people in power who are blatantly stupid, venal, mendacious and corrupt. What's the psychology behind this? Do people enjoy being ruled by someone they feel they can look down on? Do they believe that a politician who purports to be a "regular guy," a "man of the people" gets a rain check on any number of scandals?

It's easy and tempting to blame sophisticated PR campaigns and toothless media outlets for allowing someone like Ford to assume office, but Mr and Mrs Toronto Voter should get their full share of blame as well. Clearly, democracy is wasted on a significant chunk of the population. This shouldn't, however, come as a huge surprise. Every democracy shows this potentially fatal flaw. Overtly racist and fascist parties in places like the UK, France and Greece have significant support, and the US Republican Pary is simply filled with ignorant loonies who get enthusiastic electoral support, not to mention fawning attention from outlets like FOX News. A greater problem is that parties of the left and centre don't know how to deal with the mouth-breathing portion of the population. The left likes to pretend they don't exist or that they can brought round with reasoned argument. Centrists make the crucial error of pandering to them, tossing them a few right-wing bones (more law and order!) in the hope that they can poach some votes from maniacal politicians like Ford. That only feeds the hunger and makes it easier for the Fords of the world to hold the reins of power. So until the left and centre get their respective acts together and learn how to effectively communicate with the lunkheadproletariat, Rob Ford and his ilk will always have a base upon which they can build their empires of misrule.

Some related posts on this topic:

Worst of Breed
What Makes a Conservative Conservative? 
The Madness of King Ford

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