I’ve heard it too many times to count these last few days: references to “kicking a man when he’s down” with respect to Rob Ford and his train wreck of a mayoralty. Since some of those who defend him sound so earnest (and because they’re playing that “emotion” card I never expected to see with respect to the Mayor of Toronto) I just had to respond.
First relax. Try to visualize this- the metaphor: “kicking a man when he’s down”. The images I get when I do this are quite specific, most of them coming from my childhood. When I was a kid, growing up in the Jane-Finch corridor, displaying anything like a semblance of being queer was something of an adventure. There were several times that I was “down”, and “beaten” and the bullies continued to “kick”. Usually they were the big ol’ boys: overweight football players in who came from the richest families, who knew that their parents would come to their defence if I ever complained. Rather like Rob Ford, in fact. He’s got that reputation these days quite a bit: from fellow counsellors like Paul Ainslie (National Post, 2013), Denzil Minnan-Wong (The Star, 2013) and the robocalls (Globe and Mail, 2013), as well as anyone accurately reporting the happenings at City Hall.
Now: switch that image. Change to Rob Ford belligerently standing in council chambers, defiantly refusing to step down as mayor, nastily picking apart everything that any of his enemies claims as truth, his sheer mass a threatening tower of presence to stand against anyone who opposes him. He’s not a man who really cares about democracy, or at least the average person: he wants what he wants, and isn’t about to stop to get it. He got elected to his position, and that gives him leeway to do anything he wants: that wonderful “mandate”. What he does in his personal life is his own business and should have no bearing on his standing he has as an elected civil servan- no, no, strike that, an elected powerhouse. Sure he smoked crack. Sure he was an ass-hole and threw a tantrum in some unknown dining room. Even he doesn’t remember it. What of it? That just shows the power and determination and nastiness of the man. Him down? Not even close. The metaphor is singularly inappropriate.
You see, there are definite indications when a man is “down”. Rob Ford has none of them; it’s only his supporters who claim he should be pitied. And that’s because they’re tired of bolstering up his image every time they find out some new little screwup he’s performed. They’d rather enjoy their tax breaks without knowing (or caring) about what the mayor really does or how their taxes used to help people live in the city. I’ll agree to quit pointing out Mr. Ford’s flaws: but only when he’s really down.
The other day Matt Gurney published a piece in the National Post (National Post, 2013) (I know: I shouldn’t be surprised, but at least it’s not as bad as the Sun…) in which he reiterated the claim of too-much-violence against Mr. Ford. Sorry, I just don’t see it. For three years the man has refused to admit even an iota of what he’s done behind closed doors, and as a result his popularity rose… in spite of his stretching the media and claiming innocence where we now know he was lying. Now that the universe is vomiting forth everything it can find from the Ford files, I see that as just karma. I mean, did he show one ounce (or mg… ml?) of regret when he was threatening to close libraries and parks and museums, to sell community housing, or when he fired all those unionized garbage collectors west of Yonge Street? He rubbed his hands in glee, like Ebeneezer Scrooge, happy to keep the city’s coffers full so he could cut taxes for himself and his cronies. He deserves no pity. No, he’s not “down”. Not yet. He’s not even close. I can see if he resigns from being mayor and goes for therapy for his addiction(s): that’s when he’s down. That actually deserves respect. But now? Not even a shadow. Open your eyes, Matt: take a long, hard look at your hero. Be honest, and you might be surprised. The anti-hero might be popular in literature, but he’s rather disappointing in real life. The money he saves you only goes so far.
Remember: I’ve lived through some awful leaders during my time in the States. I was in Arkansas when Mike Huckabee was governor; and when George Bush was president. I disliked their policies, but I had to respect them; at least their deception was not overt, and they honestly believed what they were spouting. They practised what they preached. What I see in the Fords is much worse.
Have you ever seen Ender’s Game, Mr. Gurney? Or read the book? There’s an important description in the story, and it happens several times. The main character, while trying to maintain peace in several tense situations, must go up against an enemy whom he has tried to appease and to work with, but to no avail. He must make a choice, and he does so: a choice to make it “impossible for them to ever hurt me again” (Ender’s Game, Chapter 13). He destroys them. That’s how I feel about Mr. Ford’s political career. His opponents tried to work with him over the past few years: they were ostracized, removed from committees, or at best ignored. In the process he’s stripped the city of much of the character it used to have: the mutually supportive and creative community that I remember from my youth is turning into a cold, efficient, urban wasteland: broken only by the bright lights of our richest citizens celebrating days to honour themselves, like “Ford Fest”. Mr. Ford has built up a myth describing his greatness; it’s time for that myth to be exposed to the light of day and destroyed.