Rob Ford and political chicken

I’m no fan of Rob Ford.  I find him to be a regressive, rude, bullying, half-witted right-wing douchebag I wouldn’t trust to have my back in a bar fight, let alone as the mayor of one of the most progressive cities in the world.  Yet this uproar over his recent purchase of some fried chicken at a local KFC, dutifully recorded and uploaded to the Internet for the digital world’s derision, is a step too far.  I recall a conversation with a guy I used to work with, when we were talking about Ford and I was relating my less than favourable opinion of him.  This fellow said to me, “I appreciate that you don’t ever talk about his weight.”  My response was, why should I?  He could be a 98-pound beanpole and still advance policies that make my stomach turn.  Ford’s physical condition has absolutely nothing to do with how he conducts himself or how he performs as a public official, which are the only things we should be judging him on.

The counter-argument is that Ford made his weight an issue ripe for public scrutiny by politicizing his “Cut the Waist” challenge.  Contrast this with the response to Vic Toews and his infamous “child pornographers” comment.  There were two major initiatives on Twitter:  the @vikileaks feed, which posted publicly available records of Toews’ divorce, and the spontaneous #TellVicEverything campaign, in which users overwhelmed Toews’ Twitter feed with the mundane details of their lives – what they ate for breakfast, what was playing on their iPod, how many pigeons there were in the park and so on.  The former was disgraceful, because it made political hay of Toews’ family problems.  The latter was hysterically funny, because it mocked Toews’ boneheaded political stance.  It made the policy a laughingstock, without belittling the man’s private life.  That’s what the other guys do.

Imagine if Rob Ford were a liberal titan, boldly advancing green initiatives and progressive social policies and vowing to make Toronto car-free and overgrown with trees by 2020 – would we on the left side of the spectrum be so inclined to laugh about a lapse in his diet?  Anyone who’s ever dieted knows how hard it is, how bad the cravings can get, even when you’re not under the 24-hour stress of leading a city of millions.  We’ve all had our weak moments where we reach for the ice cream.  That’s not a criticism of Rob Ford; if nothing else, it humanizes the guy a little, and reminds you that under all the bloviating and bluster there is in fact a very vulnerable soul.  Which I would still never vote for.

The past few elections in Canada, and the upcoming American presidential contest, have brought to the forefront of the public consciousness a hideous scorched earth form of political campaign where nothing is off limits.  Effective government leadership demands that the best people step forward, and how will we encourage those folks to step out into the spotlight when the mere public rumination of a run for office can spark the filthiest invective from the opposition in response?  The silent demographic who do not vote because they cannot abide the cynicism of politics are not silent without cause.  They have been systematically alienated from a public debate that operates on the intellectual level of a high school cat fight.  It’s all too tempting for liberals to want to get down into the mud and fight just as dirty as their conservative counterparts, but doing that only accomplishes two things – it accepts with resignation the premise that government and public service is the realm of savages, and often engenders sympathy for the opponent (and by accidental consequence, the opponent’s argument).  It takes more courage to stand up to a bully with words instead of fists.  But sometimes, a victory won with words – the right words – can be all the more decisive.  Canadian and American progressives may dream of a day when right-wing parties are a nausea-inducing anathema to the voting public, but we won’t get there by calling Conservatives and Republicans fatty-Mcfat-fats.

A comedian whose name I can’t recall once opined that it was stupid to be a racist, because if you got to know the person really well you could find a much better reason to hate their guts.  Likewise, it’s ridiculous to go after Rob Ford because of his weight.  He could be the most drool-worthy, sculpted embodiment of Adonis on the planet and still be a lousy mayor.  Call him misguided, call his policies ludicrous, call his approach to governing positively inept, but if the guy wants a bucket of extra crispy chicken for dinner after a bad day, leave him the frack alone.

Laughter is the best campaign slogan

Canadians are funny people – we do not and never have taken ourselves seriously.  You would never hear true Canadians bellowing vainglorious pronouncements of superiority and boasting of Canadian exceptionalism and the divine right to apologize to no one.  Certainly we consider many things sacrosanct:  public health care being the most notable, and lately, what we do online.

In a deeply cynical move marked by paranoia and shameless political calculation (par for the course from our feds lately), Vic Toews, the Minister for Public Safety, has introduced legislation that will allow police to spy on your Internet activities without a warrant.  Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, indeed; one does not need to have read Orwell to understand the implications.  The legislation has been given the Helen Lovejoy-esque moniker of the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act, and the Minister himself raised the discourse to the highest echelons of intellectual debate by accusing those who didn’t support his draconian measures as supporters of child pornography.  I’m forced to question once again, as with the late Senator Ted Stevens and his infamous “series of tubes” comment, why it seems that those with the least knowledge of the Internet always seem to be the ones placed in charge of regulating it.

The response to this act of political dumbassery has been swift.  Rather than rising up in anger, Canadians have responded in the way that is so uniquely their own – with biting wit.  A Twitter hashtag, #TellVicEverything, is trending as Canadian tweeps take to the popular microblogger to advise Vic Toews, since he seems so obsessed, of every mundane detail of their lives:  what they’re eating for breakfast, what shirt they decided to wear today, local weather updates, the weird look that teenager just gave them and even movie spoilers.  (Sheesh – Darth Vader is Luke’s father???  Damn you anonymous Tweeter!)  There is no weapon more lethal to a purveyor of anger than a good joke at their expense; as it says in my bio here, a belly laugh is more powerful than a hateful scream.  To the angry brain, laughter does not compute.  They are so resentful of the idea than anyone is allowed to be happy instead of them, that their souls have literally lost the capacity to process humour.  I would find it cause for pity were not so many of these people in positions of nation-wide leadership and influence, instead of where they belong:  in therapy.

Why, if Canadians are such funny people, do we keep choosing the angriest among us to be our leaders?  Check out Wikipedia’s list of Canadian comedians, and then look at the list of members of the House of Commons and the Senate – you’ve never seen a dourer herd of sourpusses in your life.  You could suggest that national problems require a serious approach, and serious people.  I’m not questioning that – I just don’t think seriousness and the ability to laugh at oneself are mutually exclusive.  With the latter quality comes a sense of humility and appreciation for the weight of responsibility of the office; at least it does in every politician, every person, I’ve ever admired.  Whereas a complete lacking in the ability to recognize and find humour in one’s failings is a common trait held by every dictator in human history.  What remains frustrating is how the angry candidate wins and then everyone acts surprised when he gets into office and continues behaving like a sociopath.

How wonderful would it be if the funniest candidate won for a change?  If we chose someone who reflected our actual laugh-loving values, instead of those of the embittered loner pissed off that he was picked last for gym?  At the risk of invoking a Bush-era campaign tactic here, if you wouldn’t invite the guy over for a beer because his silent brooding and inflammatory blog posts hating on everyone and everything that didn’t agree with his worldview creeped you out, why on earth would you assume he’d be a good leader?  I’d much rather have the guy who knows the airspeed velocity of an unladen African or European swallow.  One thing is for sure – they’d be a lot more fun to watch.

Anyway, in case Vic is looking in, and in the spirit of being Canadian, I had chicken à la king without the noodles for lunch today, I’m trying to avoid carbs.  Kevin Spacey was Keyser Söze, Soylent Green is people, and Bruce Willis was dead the whole time.