Time to Scrap “Eastern Europe” (the Economist newspaper)

The Economist gets one thing right, the term Eastern Europe is an anachronism. However, like the anachronism in question, all other suggested terms are rife with presumptive ideological meaning. Even my preferred term, “the European Market-States,” which I took in part from economist Laura Neapoliani, does this.

This is the first in what I hope will become a regular feature on this blog, in which I critically examine news stories within a political economic, discourse and narrative analysis framework.

Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s weekly, cum bi-weekly, Cut the Waist weigh-ins were nothing more than a transparent means of keeping the mayor in the media without putting him in the line of fire and the Toronto media blithely took the bait. However, the efficacy of the campy sideshow was just as resilient as Ford’s resolve, which is why Ford officially jettisoned the project this past Sunday. The optics of this public capitulation demands some consideration.

Unlike trials that have seen Ford bested in council, the only person who could have fouled this ploy was Ford himself. His failure cannot be blamed on “socialists”, the Toronto Star or turncoats, and he can’t call upon one of his loyalists to lose weight on his behalf. Taken with his recent loses, it implies that he can’t be taken on his word and that he lacks the tenacity to put ambitious plans into action. Simply put, this is an allegory for a mayoralty where big, ill-conceived goals are declared with little forethought towards what it takes to achieve them.

Don’t expect this story to grow legs, but you can expect it to become a lasting touchstone. This will be especially true if, in three weeks time, Ford falls well short of his original goal.

Anxious to ride it out until the end of the week, Ford’s people would like to spin this as another instance of Ford’s everyman charm. He, “like so many of you,” struggles with his weight, is the preferred framing. However, they know that Ford’s weight is a political liability that they can’t control by limiting his public exposure.

In politics, being obese is like being a woman; it unjustly narrows a politician’s credibility by providing fodder for partisan attacks. Such attacks will only be redoubled at a time when Ford needs to win broader support.

 It seems unlikely that Ford has the support on council to enact any more of the disruptive policy initiatives that he had originally promised to his base. The people who put Ford in the mayor’s chair were mostly first time, “low information”, voters who didn’t know that being the mayor of Toronto is mostly a ceremonial position with little power. Without tangible results this constituency is likely to become disillusioned and simply abstain from voting in two years time.

If Ford wants to stay in office, he’ll have to do more than promise Scarborough voters subways that will never arrive. Specifically, he’ll need to assemble the support of a still fractious liberal (by which I mean “right-of-centre”) majority, both in and out of council, before someone else does. Ford can count his blessing that none of the “Centrists” on council are kilometers from electable form, but he would be remiss to think that the city’s influence class isn’t already scouting a contender.