Musings —06.03.2013 08:34 PM—
“Mistakes, scandals, and failures no longer signal catastrophe,” said a French cultural theorist, Jean Baudrillard. “The marketing immunity of governments is similar to that of the major brands of washing powder.”
Baudrillard’s works influenced The Matrix movie series, of all things, but we shouldn’t hold that against him.
Surveying the Canadian political landscape this spring, we know he’s at least partly right. He’s insightful in the first part of his observation (that is, scandal is no longer fatal to one’s career), but arguably wide of the mark in the second (that is, that governments possess the means to whitewash the popular consciousness).
There are three main reasons for this: One, we have a national memory in this country of about seven minutes. Two, we in the media — and, therefore, the opposition parties — flit from controversy to boondoggle like houseflies, and we rarely linger on any one overmuch. Three, the public have seen allegations of scandal made too many times to get upset anymore. Until they see someone led away to prison in handcuffs, they shrug.
Scandals are survivable, and Rob Ford and Stephen Harper clearly know this. At the moment, both Conservatives should theoretically be fighting for their political lives: Ford, with a tale in which it is alleged he used crack cocaine sometime in the past, and which he has not denied, and Harper, with a Senate expense scandal that has claimed the Prime Micromanager’s chief of staff, but about which he insists with a straight face he knew nothing.
Nobody, not even sensible Conservatives, doesn’t doubt either politician’s claims. Meanwhile, the controversies haven’t abated — both are now entering week three of front-page media coverage, a rare event.
But the Senate and crack cocaine scandals haven’t really altered many popular opinions. Polls (such as they are these days) tell us that Ford’s personal popularity remains unchanged amongst Torontonians. And Harper will remain prime minister for two more years, and he does not seem to be losing any sleep worrying about l’affaire Duffy.
Another example, thrown out almost as an afterthought in the midst of the sordid, seamy Ford mess. In a huge Globe and Mail investigation into the Ford family’s alleged involvements with drugs — the story claimed that Ford’s councillor brother, Doug, was once a dealer, and Ford has not sued them for it — there was a new scandal: A member of the Ford family associated with the leaders of the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazi Heritage Front.
Said the Globe: “(Kathy Ford’s) friends included Gary MacFarlane, a founding member of the short-lived Canadian chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, as well as the late Wolfgang Droege, perhaps the most notorious white supremacist in Canadian history …”
The report went on to state that “Kathy Ford was close to the movement,” although she was “hardly a committed soldier in the race war,” and that racist leaders even hung out in the Ford family home, although the newspaper’s source, a former Klansman, couldn’t recall meeting the brothers.
Those are extraordinary allegations. The response? Nothing. That part of the Globe’s story passed with barely a mention.
It is all very peculiar, indeed. Unless you accept Jean Baudrillard’s point of view, that is, and agree that scandal — in and of itself — is no longer enough to end political careers anymore. And that, of course, says quite a bit more about we voters than it says about the politicians.
It isn’t complimentary.