The same people who can deny others everything are famous for refusing themselves nothing. – Leigh Hunt
Where is there dignity unless there is honesty? – Cicero
Frank A. Pelaschuk
Stephen Harper and his gang believe you are dumb. So does Rob Ford. They believe that your only concerns are bread and butter issues. They believe their assaults on Democracy and the democratic process doesn’t interest you. They believe you are fearful and that the fear must be exploited. They believe you can be bought with cheap promises and shiny gewgaws. The fact that so many of you still support them tells me they are on to something.
The old adage goes like this: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
But what happens when most of the players involved experience nothing of shame, are insensible to outrage, one side contemptuously certain of the venality of the other, believing anyone can be bought with vague promises and pandering appeals to their worst instincts, and the other proving them right, easily dazzled and easily swayed and, once hooked, remain stolid and loyal as dumb oxen, impenetrably blind to light, knowledge and wisdom. Almost nothing will shake them, almost nothing will wake them; they live but are dead upstairs stirred only by the vulgar hijinks of TV reality shows or the latest salacious Miley Cyrus romp. And the coarser it gets, the more aroused they become. Neither side is interested in the ennobling possibility of politics but only in what politics can do for them. For one side, the aphrodisiac is power and influence, for the other, cheaper TVs and more duty-free goods from across the line.
To look at both men, Stephen Harper, manicured, stiff, measured, articulate, and apparently publicity shy, and Rob Ford, always in apparent disrepair, loud, coarse, and publicity hungry, it is easy to believe them from different worlds. That is surface and artifice. Politically, they are kindred spirits neither trusting nor respectful of the Democratic process; both believe the worst of us and pander to the worst in us. As politicians, they are successful, each in his own way. Their supporters are many from all walks of life and they are of a kind. They believe themselves underdogs, victims of “special interests”, i.e., unions, the left wing media, the liberal agenda, and distrust almost everything governmental.
These folks, fearful and angry, encouraged from the sidelines, egged on by Harper and Ford conservatives, are going to save the world from itself. How? Less taxes.
Conservative supporters, especially those beloved core supporters, succumb easily, almost eagerly, to cheap, empty promises: promises of less government, less taxes, less crime. They believe the Tory mythology that they, the voters, are under constant danger from crime, lefties and unionists. They are told, and believe, that our justice system is lax and fixed to benefit criminals; that more prisons and harsher sentences will reduce crime; that crime is rising; that those on welfare are leeches; that unions are special interests and unionists are lazy, fat and overpaid; that Oil is ethical; climate change, fear mongering; environmentalists, radicals. They are warned that Conservative opponents side with pedophiles, are soft on crime, and are the enemy. They are told that Big Business is always good, moral and sacred; that corporate tax cuts equal job creation; that well-paid workers threaten business and, therefore, jobs; and that Big Business is the cure for all societal ills. Why shouldn’t they believe it: Everyone knows that Conservatives are the best money managers ever.
DUPES AND STUPES
Still, some folks willingly suspend all credulity. They want the promise of magic and the Snake Oil salesman knows this and he has them. And, because they want to believe, they mistake the unbending resolve, suavity and glibness of Harper for strength, wisdom and knowledge and the vulgarity, tell-it-like-it-is-in-your-face bombast, threatening behaviour, and public outrages of Ford somehow endearing and indicative of a straight shooting, no nonsense type, someone to be trusted, someone just like them, one of the “ordinary” folk. It’s utter rot, of course. And you’re left wondering: What that hell’s wrong with these people? Will they never wake up? There is nothing endearing about thugs who govern without consultation, who govern in secrecy, who subvert democracy and threaten public servants and scientists and mistreat disabled veterans in the way Harper has and there is nothing endearing about thugs behaving like thugs, as Rob Ford and his brother, Doug have, and it is certainly less charming when the “ordinary” citizen claims Ford as his own and turns him into a folk hero. If that is the ordinary citizen, then god help us all.
But who is to blame for all this? When has public service degenerated to self-service? Is the politician solely to blame for exploiting every opportunity, every weakness, for resorting to every vile trick, no trick too vile or too low to not be used? Perhaps it is the exploited who are at fault, the voter who has surrendered his capacity to think, to reason, and to investigate, preferring instead to leave that for others, those who stand to benefit most, either out of laziness, indifference, or dependence. It is no longer, if it ever was, that simple. For whatever reason, politicians and voters have become co-conspirators, accomplices in working towards the degradation of the Democratic process. The truth is, and there is no greater evidence of this than in the shocking display put on by the Ford brothers and their supporters in Toronto, that neither side frets about the greater good of all of society for the only good they believe in is the benefit to themselves. They do not concern themselves with respect, ethics, honesty, integrity, decency or shame for one side is always willing to buy and the other to be bought: the only value the exploiter believes in is power and the only logic of merit is the logic of legalese. Whatever is legal is allowable, whatever one can get away with is acceptable, and whatever one can pull over another is legitimate because the other is just a dupe, a fool, a simpleton, deserving of the entire ill that comes his way. However, should the fool inadvertently gain some good, the exploiter will take credit.
It is easy to see the benefits for the users and exploiters, the Harpers and Fords, but what’s in it for the exploited, the willing dupes, co-conspirators in their own exploitation? Well, that appears to be rather vague. They appear not to know what they want but are amiable to the promise of better and more and if the promises are never wholly met, never fully honoured, never energetically pursued, it doesn’t matter, a soupçon will do, perhaps a cut in mobile roaming fee charges will serve or the unbundling of television packages; there’s always more promises and more tomorrows.
So, are those Harper and Ford supporters simply dumb like those Tories believe? Are they so indifferent, so locked into their narrow narcissistic lives that they cannot see or comprehend what’s happening around them? Are they that immoral and empty that nothing matters, that nothing shocks because it doesn’t touch them personally? Have they, in fact, become that jaded, that insensate, they no longer care? Do the exploited not see themselves as used? If so, perhaps, in that sense, because they don’t, they are not. They sell themselves too cheaply because they value themselves only as objects to be purchased: give me this I’ll give you that. Buy me: cut my taxes, cut the price of my cable or phone or television set; I don’t want much, but I want something. In return, I’ll give my vote, I’ll give my forgiveness, I’ll believe everything you say. To the onlooker who cares about the state of our politics and our world, there can only be bafflement mixed with fear. The turncoats within have hired themselves out and opened the gates. The barbarians have taken over and Democracy is getting a rough ride.
SO, WHO’S TO BLAME?
Alise Mills, the Conservative pundit who frequently appears on CBC’s Power & Politics attempts to make the case that there can be no linkage between Harper and the Rob Ford of today. That’s hardly credible. Rob Ford’s character did not develop overnight, nor did his present difficulties; surely those who knew him best saw the signs long ago. He is an open book in many ways, proudly playing upon his crudeness, loudness and ignorance, adopting the role of the loner and underdog fighting for the ordinary against the insiders and elite (i.e., unions, the educated and Big Government). And that was hardly a secret; certainly not unknown by those needing, and willing to use, his help. That, too, was Harper’s shtick, without the crudity, playing the role of underdog and pandering to the fears and prejudices of the uninformed, the “little” guy, both, however, Harper in particular, downplaying their efforts to accommodate Big Business with tax cuts, deregulation in environment, in labour, in workplace safety, and with concerted attacks against the public service and union bashing. For the envious, attacking public servants and unions are always winners: it’s easier to drag well-paid workers down to your level rather than pull yourself up to theirs. It’s easy to understand why the so-called “Ford Nation” was a natural fit for Harper and Harper for them. Did it matter that Ford was coarse, vulgar, unlikeable? He was one of them, shared their values, their vision. And Ford was hugely popular. So, why not a few photo-ops of them together, shaking hands, working the barbecue crowd, the perfect odd couple. Ford could bring in the votes and he did, helping Harper make considerable gains in Toronto and ensuring his much lusted after majority. Which is all very interesting, particularly now with the on-going Ford saga.
If Mills is right, what accounts for Harper’s muted response to the Ford dilemma for so long? If there is no linkage to be made, why has Harper, leader of the law and order get-tough-on-crime brigade, been so silent in denouncing the antics of his one-time ally and very best friend? Why has Harper not forcefully demanded that Ford resign from office? Why not even timidly? This is the mayor of Canada’s largest city. This is the man who has disgraced his office. This is the man who, for months, denied smoking crack, denied being a drunk, denied drinking and driving, denied consorting with alleged criminals. This is the man who has revealed himself to be a liar with his sudden, almost daily offerings of apologies for admissions of smoking crack, buying drugs, drinking and driving. This is the man who, in an angry response to a charge by an ex-staffer in a police report, denied consorting with prostitutes. The response was a tirade that was misogynistic and shockingly vulgar especially in regards to his wife who latter appeared with him in a news scrum looking shell-shocked as he once again offered an apology. This is the man who, to all those admissions, would cavalierly add, “I made mistakes.” No big deal. But how many mistakes, how many apologies before members of Ford Nation have had enough? This is the man, along with his brother Ford, points to other councillors saying he hasn’t done anything they haven’t done the only difference being he was “honest enough” to admit it! As if the guilt of others absolves him! Well that’s their world and they’re sticking to it.
THE HYPOCRISY OF HARPER’S OMINOUS SILENCE
It’s a freakish gong show, ridiculous and sad for politics and Democracy. And yet, what has been the response of the Conservatives provincially and federally? Muted. Tim Hudak belatedly and mildly distancing himself from Ford, though, it is also true, neither Kathleen Wynne nor NDP provincial leader, Andrea Horwath, were hardly stellar regarding this matter. It is the federal Conservative response that is most telling and disturbing, however. Not that long ago, when Justin Trudeau declared he was in favour of decriminalizing marijuana use, Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay, the minister of incompetence in everything, pilloried him, attempting to paint him as a drug pusher to children. Yet, when the PMO finally commented on the Ford saga, Nov. 18th, weeks after it began, his comment was less about Ford, in fact, Ford wasn’t even mentioned, but more about Trudeau. “These latest allegations are troubling. Our Government does not condone illegal drug use, especially by elected officials while in office, including Justin Trudeau,” ran part of the statement. Not only was this ad hominem cheap, it was the revelatory, a desperate attempt to divert by a hypocritical Harper who wants it both ways. He wants to appear to condemn drug use without condemning the self-admitted crack smoking, drug buying, cocaine snorting, drunk driving Ford lest he offend members of Ford Nation. But this double standard is not unique in politics and certainly not to Conservatives who are double-jointed to the core. Just as Ford denied and denied until finally confronted by the evidence proving him a liar many, many times over, Harper still insists on denying he knew anything about the Duffy/Wright deal. Not believable, not credible. We saw how Harper behaved with the senate scandal. And we see how Ford behaves today with his own troubles. Secrecy, disrespect for the public and for their offices, Harper, once cited for Contempt of Parliament, his gang and the Ford brothers are poison in the well. Yet some of the public happily drink from it. Apparently, to those in the rose coloured world of Conservatism, the poisoned water is magic, nothing is as it seems: honest criticism is lack of patriotism, fakery is reality, lies are truth, ethics anti-democratic, secrecy openness, opponents enemies, and knowledge dangerous. Who cares about facts, truth, integrity? Not Conservatives who have made subverting the electoral process a fine art nor those who vote time and again for Harper and the Fords who appear to live in a world all their own. And it isn’t pretty.
THE DAY THE THUGS CAME
When Toronto councillors stripped Ford of most of his powers on Nov. 18th, viewers were witness to a spectacle that was raw, thoroughly ugly, and utterly menacing. We saw the Ford brothers for the thugs they are as they ignored the speaker, mocked councillors, derided city staffers, and roamed the chamber to scream at heckling spectators. We saw Rob Ford knock over councillor Pam McConnell as he attempted, so he said, to go to the aid of his brother whom he believed involved in an altercation with a spectator. Another councillor repeatedly demanded that Ford apologize to McConnell. Evidently that was difficult for Ford. When he finally did, using McConnell’s name, the apology was as heartfelt as all the other apologies in the past few weeks and just as insincere. But, if knocking down fellow councillors and heckling spectators wasn’t enough, there was another episode that was extremely disturbing. Rob Ford, accompanied by his bodyguard driver, roamed the chamber with the bodyguard taking pictures of hecklers in the gallery. There was little doubt what Ford intended by this. What was that in aid of if not meant to intimidate?
It is beyond understanding that people still support either Rob or Doug Ford. It is shocking to me that they are treated as celebrities, that they have garnered the attention they have. They are hoodlums, worthy of nothing but contempt. Instead, they get their own TV show.
I have heard some say over and over that Rob Ford needs treatment, that he is endangering his life. That is probably true but I couldn’t care less. The sooner he leaves office, the better. I don’t care how he leaves, as long as he leaves. I feel no sympathy for him and can’t even work up pity. And that is sad. If he possessed a shred of dignity, some sense of pride, an iota of shame, he would know that stepping down would be the best move for Toronto, the city he professes to love. It could even help him. Crude, loud, profane, he insists on staying in office and has declared war on all those who oppose him. We have seen him exposed and humiliated, he says, but, if humiliated, it is difficult to see. It is not his fault. It never is with the Harpers and the Fords. It never seems to end and it’s always the fault of others. For Ford, it is enough that he has apologized, time and time again. He wants to move on, voters are expected to take him at his word that he is not an addict, isn’t a drunk, that pictures of him with alleged felons is a one off, just the mayor posing with ordinary folks as far as he knew. To his mother and sister, the only problem Rob Ford suffers from is his weight problem. His brother Doug, a person who would know, one thinks, considering their closeness, says he has never seen Rob drunk. Yet the world has seen more than a few videos of an apparently intoxicated Ford. Hell, he’s been even taped taking a leak in a public park. He is surrounded by enablers and all, like himself, deniers: he’s done nothing wrong, he hasn’t a problem, the elitist lefties are out to get him, he’s loved by voters. Sadly, that last may be true. There are some who see him simply as some harmless, goofy, loveable buffoon and nothing more. To them, as to the Ford brothers, the whole thing smacks of the conspiracy of the left out to get Ford. They dismiss his drug use and public drunkenness as a private matter during time off work. Yes, he is entitle to time off; the thing is, he is mayor 24/7. His behaviour hasn’t affected his job, they say. How could they know? They, too, are deniers. It is immaterial to them that he has failed the test of character, that his flaws and faults are many and serious.
SEND IN THE CLOWNS
Earlier, I stated that Harper and Ford were kindred spirits. Who can doubt it? Harper and the Ford brothers are pathetic, weak men. Harper takes no responsibility for what happens in his office as with the Duffy/Wright affair. Rob Ford accepts no blame for his actions. People were out to get him. Had he behaved, there would have been nothing to get. And while Harper may appear to be more refined, he is no less a bully than the Ford brothers who have made their way into the public consciousness largely by the force of their brutish antics. Harper and Ford think nothing of pointing fingers, of pleading ignorance, of denying wrongdoing. These are the acts of children, of bullies and cowards who cannot man up and take responsibility. Even so, there will be those in the Ford camp who will say that Rob Ford did step up, that he did accept responsibility. They live in a world of fantasy and nothing will alter that.
There are too many too willing to defend the indefensible and the inexcusable. Too many will say that Ford’s private life has nothing to do with his public life. Since when has character become a nine to five role?
Ford cares no more about democratic process than Harper’s Conservatives. If he did, he would resign. But he will not any more than Harper will. And for that, we can thank their supporters.
Too many of us expect too little from our leaders. Too many of us say we want leaders just like us. I ask this: What is the glory in having leaders “just like us” when so many of us are flawed, incapable, and disinterested? When I vote for a person, I want them to be better than me, and not just more knowledgeable about pinching dollars, cutting costs, and lowering taxes. I want them better than me in wisdom and humaneness as well. We don’t live alone. I want them to have a broader view of my society and theirs and the world at large. I do not want them to pander to the worst in me, to my prejudices, my ignorance, and shallowness but rather to help me understand that there is no place for such things. I want them to make me proud that my vote helped elect individuals who worked for the good of all members of society, who are not tied to business interests, who are not blind to workers’ needs, who believe that justice is not just about punishment but also fair treatment.
I have actually heard people say they like Rob Ford because he is just like them. That terrifies me, for what I see in him is dangerous hucksterism, disingenuousness, magical thinking, buffoonery, ignominy. If he is truly representative of the population, then, perhaps, we should have a means test for voters. Surely it’s not too much to ask voters to inform themselves, to be aware of the issues, to know their candidates and the party policies. When I hear some declare, as if it was something of which to be proud, “I don’t vote”, I want to ship that person to a deserted island because he has already isolated himself from society by his disinterest in how it operates or is governed. When asked why they don’t vote, they sometimes say they are not interested, that they don’t know enough, that their vote doesn’t count. These are excuses from individuals who haven’t grown up, who cannot see, or don’t care, how our lives are intertwined and how our actions affect others. We already have too much of that in public life. There is no room for apathy, laziness, for leaving the decisonmaking to others. “Politics doesn’t interest me.” How can anyone say that of something that affects almost everything in their lives every day? It is these people that the Harpers and Fords love. They don’t think, they don’t analyze, they don’t absorb, they don’t remember. They just don’t care. They are zombies; they go through life asleep and are the ones who will do as they are told when they are told. They believe in nothing because they know nothing beyond their own needs wants and fears. And because they cannot see beyond their own narrow sphere, they vote for the populist emptiness of Ford and for the secretive, vindictive, and mean-spirited free enterprise governance of Harper and gang. They don’t mind, they don’t know, they don’t care.
And the rest of us? Well, we pay the price.
But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine