If there's one question I've been asked more than any other in the past day or two, it's "Why aren't people angrier with Rob Ford? Is he just bullet proof, or what?" It's not that I have any inside info about the Toronto Mayor's background, choices or even appeal. I have no connection to Ford as an individual or to municipal politics in general. But I suppose the fact that I have defended the Mayorin the media on many occasions makes me the closest thing to an "expert" that many baffled Ford-watchers can find when they're trying to make sense of how the crack-smoking leader can still enjoy so much support.
My answer to the question of how Ford has managed to hang in despite what should have been a devastating set of revelations? For all his serious and numerous bad acts, Ford hasn't taken advantage of his office -- and our money -- for his own personal gain. At least not that we know of.
Yeah, I know that sounds absurd. "Well, the guy smoked crack while in office and lied about it for months, plus he apparently can't remember exactly what happened because he was probably in a drunken stupor at the time.... But at least he didn't actually steal anything from taxpayers." Ford's behaviour is so patently outrageous that qualifying it seems ridiculous. I get that. And I count myself among the many who consider his deeds more than enough to warrant a resignation. And yet, I honestly believe that the fact that Ford himself appears to be the primary victim of his crime and mistakes is the key to his retaining a surprising level of support amongst die-hards.
Take a gander over at the Senate for a useful comparison. Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin are not enjoying the sort of Teflon protection from public disgust that Ford seems to retain in at least some corners. What's the difference? While Ford's vice is destroying himself and his credibility with drink and illegal drug, all three of the federal Tories are accused of, at heart, bilking taxpayers -- of inappropriately taking our money for their own enrichment. Similarly, London, Ont., Mayor Joe Fontana has been accused of using taxpayer money to help pay for his son's wedding reception. For many Canadians, this sort of direct abuse of their own contributions to government -- their cash that could otherwise have been spent on helping their own families -- feels more offensive, disturbing and ultimately personal than a politician's illegal drug use and alcohol problems. It's a question of who's been most injured by the alleged or actual misdeeds. Do you feel that your leader has revealed himself to be an embarrassing jackass, or do you feel that he has avariciously picked your pocket?
I don't want to take the point too far. Ultimately, almost all voters want to feel they're being treated respectfully by politicians, and treating people respectfully includes being honest with them, which Rob Ford has not. It's also reasonable to question Ford's effectiveness at doing any job at all, let alone running the city, given the substances he appears to have been consuming with alarming enthusiasm. The man should not be in the running for any politician of the year awards.
But the next time you're asking yourself why the media and other politicians (see, for example, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne) seem so much more furious about Rob Ford's behaviour than many Torontonians are, consider exactly who the Mayor has hurt most. It's not the citizens of the city, which is actually carrying on shockingly nicely, thank you very much.
Ford has proven himself to be unpolished, undignified, inarticulate, petulant and impulsive. This displeases many people for obvious reasons, but it particularly disgusts politicians and reporters, who operate in a sphere where the opposite characteristics are considered emblematic of virtue.
Yet for many voters, the more relevant questions when a judging a politician are: Is he a greedy bastard and has he tried to screw me over?
So far, despite everything else that has happened, the answer to those questions as they pertain to Rob Ford remains no.