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Rob Ford: The Myth Behind the Tragedy

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Mayor Rob Ford, caught on camera as he wheels his Escalade out of Toronto City Hall, looks a bit like a bug under a microscope. Ford, and now his brother, have riveted the world's attention for their real and alleged antics. When Rob Ford was accused of smoking crack with known drug dealers, his story transformed from that of a politician's indiscretion to a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions. Much of the ink spilled about him in the last week focused on his bizarre behaviour and enumerated the allegations against him. But how did Rob Ford find himself in this situation? What's going on in the mind of that man peering back through the microscope at the world's media?

Ford's story has grown larger than the man himself and become more tragic because most people see the tragedy, one that Ford totally dismisses. We are waiting for the end game. It's clear from Ford's background that he sees himself as a heroic figure. From being a leader on his high school football team to his rise as mayor, he has consistently presented himself as a saviour, someone who will end the gravy train, slay the waste, and defeat the downtown liberals who give city money away. Like most heroes, Ford is flawed and as the world now knows, he is tragically flawed which is why the world's attention is now cast on Ford.

Ford is well known to most Torontonians. He has been around for a couple terms as a bombastic councillor and his recent term as mayor. He's known for his offensive comments and opinions. The man has no filter and his base loves it. He is considered by many to be pigheaded. He seldom consults with other councillors or even his staff. Getting his way involves pushing, bullying, and coercing others. His behaviour has steadily undermined his position. Councillors in his camp have all but deserted him, his initiatives in council fall flat, his leadership is impotent and he has gone through three chief of staffs in two years. Let's just say he doesn't listen.

Ford could be the poster child for confirmation bias, a psychological concept that to a certain extent, we are all subject to. We do it when we listen to information that confirms our beliefs or bias, often rejecting what we don't believe. What's unique about Ford is he is totally deaf to anything that doesn't support his role as the hero. When attacked or criticized, he comes back with denials, blame, finger pointing, attacks of his own or withdrawal. Nothing dents this hero's armour. As his brother Doug says, he's got skin as tough as a crocodile.

Ford has consistently acted above the law, behaving in an arrogant and reckless fashion. Scandals involving campaign overspending, showing up allegedly impaired at social functions, hiding for over a week from the crack video and many other transgressions point to a sense of entitlement. Somehow Rob Ford feels above the law or that rules and laws just don't apply to him. Citizens in Toronto have been amazed how much Ford has been able to get away with scott-free over the last two years. The sense is now that he has gone too far and will meet his Waterloo.

For such a dramatic and flamboyant mayor, he has an intensely personal life. Not much is known about Ford outside of his public life. Other public figures who have led very private lives often have something to hide. There are hundreds of stories of highly moral political figures who indulge in salacious activities when the cameras are gone. We only hear about them when they get caught and they rarely do because they are often above suspicion or get the benefit of the doubt. No one would have thought the prim and proper Betty Ford (no relation) was a pill-popping alcoholic until she was brave enough to publicly admit it.

If Rob Ford does have a substance abuse problem, he would have to admit it to himself first and that isn't likely to happen. The dissociation between who he is a public figure and his private life allows him to behave differently and we have a long list of how that played out. Dissociation of two very different lives allows the ego to compartmentalize behavior and may produce two competing personalities which in Ford's case may not be far off the mark.

Ford isn't the first politician who suffers from confirmation bias and he won't be the last. He isn't the first public figure to feel entitled and put himself above the law either. He has actually gone far on bravado, chutzpa and bullying despite his handicaps. Like the hero Icarus, he has flown too high; his fragile wings are melting in glare of public scrutiny. His hubris is his undoing. The man looking back through the microscope is angry, confused and frightened. He can't accept what the media says about him because it undermines his mythology. If Ford had read about Icarus he might have figured out that this myth doesn't end well.