"A Toronto run by a crack-smoking Rob Ford would still be better than a Toronto run by David Miller."
- Brian Lilley
Ford Nation stands proudly behind their man. In Rob Ford, they see someone who represents the approach they prefer (no-holds-barred, no compromise) delivering the specific asks they have decided matters to them (cut taxes, pillory lefties).
If online commentary is anything to go by, Ford Nation is heavily populated with angry, bitter people with no time nor interest in understanding the complexities or root causes of issues ranging from gridlock to crime to homelessness. Their patience with what is often a circuitous and poorly performing process has worn out.
Rob Ford validates his supporters in a typically populist way - but more so than other populist politicians, Ford also validates and enables their less patient behaviour. Ford texts while driving. Ford mouths off to TTC drivers. Ford bullies his opponents to get his way. Ford regularly acts in a rushed, self-serving manner that frankly, many of us would like the excuse to do, were it not for the threat of red-tape ramifications (ie, legal consequences).
The best part is, Ford gets away with it. Whether he neglects to read his files (something that Lilley would have concerns about, were it not Rob Ford), racks up driving infractions or potentially smokes crack, he walks away consequence-free. This free ride only emboldens him to become the great... right wing something-or-other everyone expects him to be - he gets applauded for saying in public the kinds of things Tim Hudak only dares to say at Spring Fling.
Which is something else that the Political Right is starting to notice. While Hudak has the right talk, he simply isn't gaining traction within Ontario. It was Rob Ford and the Rob Ford candidate - not Tim Hudak and the Hudak Conservative Candidate - that brought in a seat in yesterday's byelection. Rob Ford, not Tim Hudak, is becoming the de facto figurehead of the provincial conservatives.
As it the case with all politicians, supporters tend to either ignore or dismiss the parts of their candidate they don't like and instead, focus on the failings of opponents. It matters not that Ford has had to back-peddle repeatedly over things he's said (lying about being drunk at a hockey game, lying about being charged with DUI in Florida, etc); so long as he keeps cutting taxes and shrinking government that's all that matters. Besides, the other guys are all liars, too - better our liar than theirs, right?
Here's the danger in this; when you overlook or worse, start to justify the failings of your political horse, you are essentially giving your blessing to their behaviour and encouraging the same in others.
What if the crack video comes to light and Project Traveler presents a solid case that the Mayor of Toronto has bought illegal drugs and supported an illegal industry that destroys lives? If we forgive Ford for giving money to people who bring gun violence to our streets, are we essentially saying it's okay to support drug dealers?
This is where the true moral lines in the sand get drawn; Ford Nation or people so angry with the political alternative that they're willing to back Ford in a "the enemy of my enemy is my ally" kind of way will have to decide what sins they will forgive to get their narrow wins or to punish people they don't like. If people like Brian Lilley stick to their guns, then we will live in a society where it doesn't matter if the Chief Magistrate supports crime, so long as he cuts taxes.
More to the point, they're going to find themselves doubling-down on Ford's rhetoric, enabling him to be the "great right-wing whatever" people apparently expect him to be. The world will become a little bit more black-and-white, with-us-or-against us. How does that sort of mentality reflect itself in public opinion?
A few posts from Twitter last night:
@VainHostile Need to establish minimum level of non-governmental income before people r allowed to vote. (Taxes paid - govt income) #onpoli
So, do all voters in #OTTsouth show up wearing a gimp outfit ready to endure more bullshit from the Liberals? Masochists... #ONpoli
Election result = the downward spiral of Ontario will continue with no end in sight #OnPoli
Liberals could basically kill babies with your tax dollars and get re-elected. Wait... #onpoli
@fullcomment ...anyone who voted #Liberal in #Ontario is either in on the fraud or an idiot and a sucker... #ONpoli
Ontario voters who returned liberal candidates today should be embarrassed. What does this party have to do to lose seats? Murder? #onpoli
CFRA caller: "It had nothing to do with Tim Hudak. Immigrants like daycare." @CFRAOttawa #ottnews #onpoli
Everyone who voted Liberal today should be ashamed of themselves #onpoli
When you start telling people who hold different opinions than you they should be ashamed of themselves, when you start dismissing entire communities that don't vote your way, when you start suggesting minority groups are to blame for your team not winning and when you start to suggest electoral rules should be changed to exclude those least likely to vote the way you do, we have a real problem.
For an example of how that trend can go horribly wrong, look at Greece, or Hungary. In fact, virulent racism is on the rise across Europe.
Here in Canada, politicians have gotten a little too comfortable with the fear button; when you motivate people to vote against, not for, you set them in opposition with anyone who does support the other guy. Divide and conquer is a great short-term strategy for winning power, but it's also a long-term recipe for fostering a fractured, angry society.
This isn't a path we want to be on - it's not healthy for anyone, whatever their political views, wherever they sit on the socio-economic spectrum. Short-sightedness might be immediately fulfilling but it leaves you with one hell of a hangover. And we're all being short-sighted these days.
You'd have to be on crack not to notice.