If you’re interested in politics, two things probably caught your attention yesterday.
(1) Important by-elections took place – two in Alberta, and two in Ontario.
(2) Rob Ford got out of rehab.
This column is being written in advance, but we’ll hazard a guess that the second political happening – the Rob Ford one – garnered about 100 times more interest. Sure, the by-elections were expected to conclude with some surprising upsets. Sure, they were highly relevant to the futures of Messrs. Trudeau, Harper and Mulcair. Sure.
But Rob Ford getting out of rehab would end up attracting far more interest. Why? Why, why, why?
Well, for starters, Ford has actually changed our political culture. He’s obliged us to confront several unpleasant facts about ourselves – about the cult of celebrity, about the irrelevance of scandal, about the fleeting nature of rules.
For example, it used to be that if an elected person got caught in a scandal – say, using hard drugs and consorting with drug dealers – they’d resign. They’d leave, and never come back. They broke the rules, and shame was upon them.
Rob Ford has changed all that. He has no shame. He doesn’t follow the rules. Instead of punishing him for that, we pose for selfies with him. In that way, we’re almost worse than him.
The Watergate scandal? Remember that? It was a real scandal, and it claimed a sitting President. It transformed journalism and American democracy, for a while.
If Rob Ford had been President, he would have just kept going. He would have laughed at impeachment and his critics, and he would have brazened on. And, based upon our recent collective experience, we would have let him.
Finally, it is apparent that Rob Ford isn’t actually a person anymore. He isn’t human. He’s more famous than the most famous Canadian – more famous, truly, than Terry Fox and Norman Bethune and Celine Dion and Chris Hadfield. We’ve made him that way. Us.
We’ve rendered him a porcine Kardashian, or a Reubenesque Paris Hilton. He’s accordingly much, much more than a garden-variety politician. He’s a CELEBRITY. And we cannot help but watch him, as he careens through our politics, a wrecking ball made flesh.
Rob Ford has taken several bits of conventional political wisdom, and stomped all over them. And many people – particularly those people who never thought there was anything noble or redeeming about high public office – think Rob Ford is still worth voting for. Because they already thought all politicians were liars anyway.
Full disclosure, as they say: I am volunteering for another candidate for Toronto’s mayor. I called her up on the same day I listened to my 11-year-old in the back seat, laughing with his friends about crack cocaine.
“Crack cocaine isn’t funny, guys,” I said, amazed that I would live long enough to ever have to say such a thing. “It can kill you.”
“But Dad,” my son said. “Then why is Rob Ford using it?”
And, at that moment, I figured I needed to do everything I could do to drive that bastard from office. Right then and there.
Like I said at the start: those by-elections – and I hope my friends Arnold, Joe and Kyle won in three of them, by the way – are far more important. But here we are, again, all talking about goddamn Rob Ford instead.
I need a drink.