Friday, August 8, 2014

Little Big Man

Ford reveals his plan for robbing Fort Knox to pay for
Toronto's new subways.
On July 25, Toronto mayor Rob Ford held Ford Fest in a Scarborough park. The picnic/campaign event attracted a few protestors, but mostly it brought out the hardcore Ford supporters and those attracted to any kind of celebrity, notorious or otherwise. Toronto Life did a brief piece on the people who turned out to support Ford, and it's an efficient insight into the continuing puzzle of why this man, who appears to have absolutely no redeeming qualities, continues to earn the attention and admiration of perhaps a quarter of Toronto's electorate. As well, this article in Now provides an interesting look at the surprising (shocking?) support Ford gets from black voters.

What emerges from the two articles is that Ford's base can be divided into two camps. The first consists of those whose ears prick up every time Ford says things about working for the "little guy," a term he uses so often you'd be forgiven for thinking he's Mayor of Munchkinland. To back up his claims Ford regularly stages media events in which he visits public housing projects to knock on doors, shake hands, and listen to complaints about faulty elevators, leaky plumbing, and so on and so on. The fact that this isn't Ford's job and that his visits accomplish nothing is lost on "little guy" voters. The mere fact that he's paying attention to them, calling them by name, as it were, is enough to garner their adulation. Why? Because Ford has accidentally benefited from the class divisions in Toronto. The poor and the working poor in Toronto are largely ignored until one of them picks up a gun. The two other mayoral candidates of note, John Tory and Olivia Chow, spend most of their time currying favour with  the middle and upper-middle classes. On the provincial level, the NDP, supposedly the party of the working class, stayed mum on the subject of raising the minimum wage during this year's election. This election also saw them move vigorously towards the middle of the political spectrum. In sum, the people living on the economic edges of Toronto rarely hear a politician talking about them, and never see one turn up on their doorstep looking concerned. It's not surprising, then, that some of Toronto's proletarians would move into the Ford camp. They might be holding their noses while doing so, but their support for Rob is probably as much a protest against the way they're ignored as it is a vote for Ford.

The other group that loves Rob are those who like to see a "big man" in power. In large parts of the world the tribal chief, clan leader, capo, party boss or religious patriarch is expected be a big man, by which I mean a guy who throws his weight around, bullies, browbeats, acts tough, makes a show of his power and wealth and machismo, and, sometimes, is also physically large, or at least fat. In lots of cultures that are undemocratic or have weak democracies these are the kind of men people expect to see as a leader. Rob Ford is tailor-made for that demographic, and there are certainly lots of Torontonians who have come from countries and cultures that tolerate variations on Ford as leaders. And one has only to look at Italy and Silvio Berlusconi to realize it isn't just less-developed nations that have a weakness for loudmouthed, racist boors. Even Rob's brother Doug (a Toronto city councilor and Rob's more thuggish clone) got into the "big man" act this past Christmas when he gleefully handed out cash to residents of a public housing project as though he were the local lord of the manor or the resident drug dealer.

The socio-economic underclass and adherents to the "big man" theory of politics aren't going to be enough to get Ford re-elected (fingers crossed), but it's a reminder that when people feel ignored and lacking in representation, they'll be tempted to ally themselves with politicians who are willing to speak to them, even if those politicos have no intention or ability to do anything for them, and are singularly lacking in talent, intelligence and morals. Perhaps it's time for Chow and Tory to show up with their tool belts at their nearest public housing complex.

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