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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday 21 November 2013

Rob Ford's Path to Victory (UPDATED)

So you're clear, folks, by guys she means Toronto Council and the City of Toronto staff.

Toronto Council has a lot of massive issues on their plate right now.  Having finally stripped Rob Ford of the majority of his mayoral powers and after a long, embarrassing month (or years) of Ford-centric mayhem, they are probably relieved to be able to move on.

Ford, however, isn't moving on.  He's declared war on the City and is hell-bent on taking back his powers, on behalf of the little guy.

See, Rob Ford never looked at himself as The Mayor - he looks at himself as a normal, regular person who has now been silenced by "the man" for not being perfect.

Ford now has a platform and the time to go out and sell it to these very communities that are afraid of being marginalized, even victimized by "the politicians" whose names some of them don't even care to know.

Were I Ford and his team, I'd be out in those neighbourhoods right now, fuelling the fires of dissent, playing the populist card, reinforcing the "I'm the only one who cares about you, because I'm one of you" line and playing up the "you don't need to work with those downtown people, you have to force them to work with you" approach.

Conversely, if I were the City, had trashed Ford's name yet was uncertain if criminal charges will ever be delivered, I would be obscuring his path to victory by seriously engaging with his potential voters, listening actively, recognizing what you hear publicly and seriously discussing related policy/funding initiatives that reflect at the very least the spirit of those concerns.  The side benefit to this approach is that they may even land on some innovative, more sustainable and wide-reaching solutions.

Of course, there's no reason for the successful people to listen to me - after all, they've managed to get where they (and we) are all on their ownsome.

UPDATED Friday 22/11/13: Friday's poll also found that one-third of Toronto voters say they will cast their votes for Ford in next year's mayoral election.

Seriously think about that for a second.  Despite the embarrassment being heaped on Toronto, despite the vulgarity and use of his wife as a prop, despite the physical assaults, the video threatening murder, the misuse of taxpayer funds and abuse of taxpayer-funded staff, despite the drinking and driving, swearing in front of kids, lying about everything from his political accomplishments to his substance abuse and the crack smoking, Ford's support hasn't budged a dent.

This is not an endorsement of Ford as a leader; this is an assault on an institution that people rightly feel is letting them down. 

Well played, Stephen Harper - you wanted an angry, system-bucking, fight-for-what's mine Canada; Toronto is one step on the way to what that looks like.

Ford has my vote as I believe in democracy and what the Councillors have done here is undemocratic.  I also believe this is driven by the Toronto police who should be investigated by the OPP or RCMP preferably.  It also stinks of the Toronto Star ans rallying the media against him.

This quite possibly comes from a paid troll, but there are without question enough people out there with rage against the machine that it could be real.
When a third or more of the populace doesn't only mistrust every institution that makes a democracy thrive and wants some form of justice, that's neither funny nor tragic - that's dangerous.

Politics has always been amateur psychology.  Because it is amateur, lots of assumptions get made that don't fit; lots of tried-and-true techniques get applied to situations that don't fit the traditional mold.

A big thing in political campaigning is "define or be defined" - i.e., make sure that you've established in the public mind the brand you want yourself/your opponents have before they do the same to you. 

This makes sense - it's about establishing both a solidified memory and an emotional attachment to it - positive for your candidate, negative for the opponents.  This is behavioural economics; it's why attack ads are both popular and effective.

The reason you want to get in early is because existing memories are hard to challenge; this is also why incumbents, particularly municipal ones who largely fly under the media radar between elections, are so hard to supplant.  Memories and their emotional attachments are the framework through which we see the world; these entrenched perspectives are very hard to break and reshape.

Target did some interesting research in this space and concluded that it takes significant disruption to our lives for established beliefs and behaviours to change.  This, again, goes back to attack ads - political opponents will always try to tie each other to the latest scandal, exaggerating its significance in almost Godwin-like proportions to make you feel threatened, opening you up to suggestion.

Which is what the teams of various mayoralty contenders or potential contenders are trying to do with each other's candidates and, naturally, the incumbent Mayor.

Herein lies the problem.  Ford's entire term as Mayor has been disruption - crack scandals, videos, football, rules ignored and briefs unread.  It's been like one prolonged campaign season - people have come to associate Ford with heightened political tension.

But they've also come to associate heightened political tension with a failure in politics in general.  

Political staff will be familiar with this almost PTSD-like state of mind, where the tension/emotional highs and lows of campaigns become addictive; normal life doesn't quite measure up and, like an addict, you almost long for the next fight to feel at ease again.  

As the campaign grows in steam and the blows start to fall with increasing force, Rob Ford will remain a constant in the mix, a bit of predictable instability for people to latch on to.  

Plus, he's already out there, solidifying his brand as a failed human being in a time of low-unemployment and economic uncertainty when many people are feeling like failures themselves.

Now, I'm now trained neuropsychologist - I'm as amateur as the rest of them, so I could be wildly wrong.  But I don't see the traditional War Room approach to campaigns working against Rob Ford.  In fact, it might just benefit him.

Politics is broken.  It's broken because of conniving manipulators that care more about notches on their campaigns belts than they do about the actual people.  The people are losing - their jobs, their sense of security, their sense of self-worth.  Rob Ford is like that, too - he's clearly got issues, like real people do, rather than being a slick operator.  And, he's consistent.  Better the devil you know than the one you don't, right?

Time will tell, I guess.

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