Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Field Guide to Ford Supporters

A voter rethinking her choice of Rob Ford.
Just when you thought Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was scraping the bottom of the scandal barrel, he starts driving splinters through his hands as he begins frantically clawing right through the barrel's planks. For Rob, the word "nadir" is something glimpsed briefly in the rearview mirror as he weaves his Escalade to yet another rendezvous with some Iceberg Vodka. By this point the only way he could jolt the benumbed senses of we Torontonians is if he commits some unholy sexual crime involving a butternut squash, an endangered species, and Justin Bieber. That being said, Ford still has supporters. If you're not from Toronto you're reading that last statement and thinking, "But surely the people who wear colanders on their heads to block out transmissions from the planet Zontar can't count for much?" Unfortunately, depending on the poll and the question being asked, Ford can still get some kind of support from 20-40% of the population. Herewith is a guide for non-Torontonians to the people who constitute Rob Ford's base.

The Greedy

For some people a political philosophy built entirely around lowering taxes, bashing unions, and slashing spending forgives any and all crimes. From millionaire property developers to penny-pinching pensioners, there's an intractable core of people who will always vote with their wallets held over their hearts. Pointing out that Ford's lemonade stand economic theories are harming Toronto's long-term economic health does no good with these voters; they only see that Ford will put a few extra dollars in their pockets. The shortsightedness of all involved was very much on display when Ford scrapped a $60 vehicle registration charge. Yay! said Ford's base. And then he raised parking meter rates. There goes the $60 saving. But the most acute definition of greed in regard to Ford goes to the Sun News TV channel, which is best described as FOX News' short, asthmatic, pimply little brother. Rob and Doug Ford have been hired by Sun News to host their own show starting this Monday. So in an effort to boost dismal ratings and profits, this "news outlet" will hire a criminal and his thuggish brother and give them a bully pulpit.

The Ignorant

By ignorant I don't mean stupid. Lots of people, from the brightest to the dullest, pay no attention to politics, especially of the municipal variety. If you could do a psychic brain scan of the average Torontonian during an average day their thoughts would probably look like this:

"I can't believe they're putting up a condo there."
"I wish the TTC would get some of those people pushers from the Tokyo subway."
"The Leafs should trade Phaneuf."
"I wonder when Roll Up The Rim starts again?"

Civic politics doesn't enter the picture. Voter turnout has always been abysmally low in municipal elections, and the election of Rob Ford is an unfortunate side effect of that. When people pay scant attention to politics it's easy for someone like Ford to get his loud, simple message across. In the last mayoral election, George Smitherman, Ford's main opponent, had no clear message for voters. Ford's was crystal clear and managed to filter through the disinterest most people have for municipal issues. In addition to the people who don't care, there are a large number of Torontonians who don't speak English as a first language, and barely as a second. For these people politics can be an opaque process. Our local media is, not surprisingly, entirely English-speaking, which leaves a big group of people at a disadvantage when it comes to evaluating policies and candidates. Ford's bare bones, shouty message manages to push through the language barrier. And neither of these groups are well-served by the mainstream media in Toronto. Like anywhere else in North America, most people here get their news from TV and radio. That's not good. Talk radio in Toronto has been solidly behind Ford, and even after the past week's horror show the Fords can still find sympathy on the airwaves. TV is no better. Local news shows on Global, City and CFTO try so hard to be "fair" and "restrained" when reporting on Ford that they end up muting the sheer awfulness of the man. A case in point: this past summer, in the midst of the crack video crisis, Ford went on a photo-op salmon fishing trip with Hazel McCallion, the nonagenarian, apple doll mayor of neighboring Mississauga. Hazel (no stranger to scandal herself) hooked a fish that "almost pulled her overboard," according to the media present, but Ford jumped up and "saved" her from a watery grave. It was, of course, nothing like that (as the video footage showed), but the TV talking heads couldn't have been more charmed and bubbly over the chance to show Ford in a sympathetic light. It was as though they'd been praying for an opportunity to show Ford supporters that they like him too.

The Scared

Over the past forty years Toronto has gone from a WASPy bastion of Anglocentric culture to one of the most multicultural cities on the planet. No news there. But not everyone was happy about that, and they find Rob Ford's porcine whiteness and casual racism a pleasant blast from the past. These voters have dim memories of a Toronto that was a quiet small town in which there was no such thing as Pride parades, ethnic festivals, foreign accents or feta cheese. All these changes are terribly frightening for this Ford-friendly demographic, and for them a vote for Ford is a vote for nostalgia.

The Stupid

Well, yes, some people are just dumber than a bag of hammers, and there's no way of sugarcoating it. These voters, like Ford, are intimidated by the complexity of civic governance. They're also intimidated by search-a-word puzzles. They, like Ford, want to believe that "regular guys" who have common sense and gumption can survive and thrive in a big city. For people lacking in education and smarts, Ford is their knight in shining armour who proves that one of their own can rise to the top of the heap and show those smartypants with their university degrees and proper grammar a thing or two. This key demographic is also deeply suspicious of unions, who, they feel, are overpaid (a whiff of jealousy here) and "getting away with stuff." The "stuff" being fighting a rearguard action for a decent standard of living and preserving essential city services. Never underestimate the loyalty of the lumpenproletariat vote.

And so there you have it; the people who put Ford in power and now lurk in the wings, eager for a reason to love him again. At this point Ford is probably well past his sell-by date, even with his most diehard fans. However, he does have nearly a year in which to rehabilitate his image before the next election, and this could come to pass. If Rob were to go away and spend a month in rehab, even if it was some kind of faux addiction treatment, he could come back and claim he was "cured." That would be all it would take for a lot of his supporters to come back into the fold, and once they start trickling back Ford's media lackeys at the Toronto Sun and on talk radio would be leading the choir in praising the "new" Rob Ford. We're not out of the woods yet with Rob, but at least we can be confident that after a quiet 48 hours he's overdue for another scandal of biblical proportions. Watch out, Justin.

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