I have a very hard time taking the Ford team at face value in their explanation that Rob Ford posing with a fascist “consultant,” dressed in full regalia, at the New Year’s levee and his later meeting with the man to discuss “transit” was a simply a matter of courtesy. Furthermore, for a politician with a penchant for slandering anyone from right-of-centre to the progressive left as a “socialist” and expressing crypto-fascist viewpoints with abandon, standing next to a bona-fide fascist leaves Ford especially vulnerable to political attacks. As it should.
To give you some perspective on the gravity of this photo, it would be like the leftist David Miller being photographed with an insurrectionary anarchist, decked out in full Black Bloc gear. The juxtaposition implies that there’s nothing separating a “mainstream” exponent of a particular ideology from its extremists.
When you’re a politician, it’s part your staff’s job to make sure that no one “funny looking” ends up in the same room as you, let alone posing for a photograph with you smiling next to them. This should be of the utmost concern to any political handler in an age when just about everyone carries a mobile device that shoots photos and can disseminate them in an instant. Especially those working for a politician who is hopelessly stuck on campaign-mode. Furthermore, even inexperienced handlers know that uncontrolled public events need to be stage managed more heavily than controlled ones, especially when your boss is so polarizing, because of their potential to invite, shall we say, vociferous critics.
When the federal Tories were “creeping” suspected Liberal supporters in order to keep them out of their rallies and making sure that only party militants figured into their stump stops, amid all of the justified indignation, someone forgot to mention that similar tactics are standard practice amongst all parties. Try wearing business attire to an NDP rally and see how close you’re able to get to the lectern, that is if you even manage to get in at all.
Proving once again that he’s still punk to the very core of his being, it was long-time Liberal operative Warren Kinsella who uncovered the photo. Kinsella has been around the dark arts side of politics long enough to recognize that, in not springing into action at the sight of a man in such atypical dress, either by stopping the photo line or having security remove the man, he was somewhat familiar to Ford’s people. Whether or not they knew about his political activities is another matter altogether. Either way, Ford will pay dearly for this.
Firstly, every time he uses his most favoured (counter-)attack of slandering an opponent or critic as a “socialist,” the subject can now invoke Ford’s history of “palin’ ‘round” with fascists.” Earlier this year Ford forced an apology from the leftish Adam Vaughan, who described the Ford coalition as “black shirts.” Had this photo been in circulation then, Vaughan could have nicely told Ford to pound sand instead of having to submit to what is now an undue apology.
Secondly, the photo and the association that it implies puts a simple frame around Ford’s policy trajectory that can be easily exploited by his opponents on both sides of the ideological spectrum, but he should only be concerned with how those on the Right leverage it.
Despite some dissension that was ultimately played out in the form of too many right-of-centre candidates running on pretty much the same platform, Toronto’s right-wing political class took a huge risk in backing Rob Ford. They knew that he could put conservatives back in control of city hall by mobilizing reactionary, “low information” voters who know the Rob Ford brand but little else about politics, but they seriously overestimated his ability to effectively govern a heterogeneous urban population. The Right’s chief concern right now is that diffuse animosity towards Ford will be organized by a resurgent Left or sour Toronto voters on conservatives altogether. This latter hazard is precisely why prime minister Harper, who campaigned with Ford as his “fishing buddy”, has made pains to distance himself from Ford as part of his long-term goal of making inroads into Liberal and NDP held “Fortress Toronto”.
For most Torontonians, conservativism is synonymous with pure evil. However, when presented with “conservative” ideas, like wage restraint in the public sector, government that doesn’t get involved in and divests itself of enterprise, lower property taxes, privatization of public services and so on, Torontonian voters are very supportive of them. It’s just that they’re offended by all of the regressive posturing that goes along with the conservative brand. In hindsight, Toronto’s right-wing political class realizes that they made a huge mistake in not putting their differences aside and fielding a single candidate who could grow their prospects instead of harming them. A mayor who meets with neo-nazis, that’s something harmful to the cause.
In case you’re one of the many who are still hopelessly under the misapprehension that John Tory will ride in to save the day, you’re dead wrong. We’ve already seen this movie and it was called the Commonsense Revolution. As successful as his time as premier was (two majorities and his key policy planks, save for “workfare,” remain to this very day), the bombastic market libertarian Mike Harris incensed the provincial electorate so much that it has resulted in three consecutive Liberal governments that govern as if they’re bullet-proof, and a rudderless Conservative opposition. The provincial Conservatives tried the “moderate” John Tory as a means of reconciling with voters who felt burned by Harris and that didn’t work.
The Toronto conservative political class is an intelligent lot with more resources than everyone else combined, so I can guarantee you that they’re already grooming multiple prospects with the aim of selecting just one and that he or she is going to be the consummate red tory. A big part of their campaign will be making certain that every identified group who ever felt even the slightest bit alienated by Ford feels confident about the candidate. In a play for the support of artists and cyclists, we should expect to see the “Ford pals around with neo-nazis” salvo entered.
The photo of Barack Obama smiling next to the outspoken revolutionary theology preacher Jeremiah Wright is a photo that dogs Obama to this very day, because it suggests that he is an exponent of the radical political views and conspiracy theories expressed by Wright. Yet, without similar public statements made by Obama himself, this is a connection that has to be invented and then taken on faith. Its “stickiness” is to be attributed to the partisan desire to believe it uncritically. Rob’s predicament is different in that his views were widely documented prior to the circulation of this photo, and the connection between the two, while just circumstantial, made very easy sense.
If politicians can draw one important lesson of this story, it’s this. If you’re going to ruthlessly play the politics of division and maintain what many regard as repugnant views, be mindful of the company that you keep and be ready to shoulder the consequences.
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.
In a hilarious video that’s gone viral since its release Friday, a man dressed in a full Batman costume is seen around the city – on the subway, outside City Hall, in a Starbucks — asking (rather, screaming) at passersby : “WHERE ARE THEY?!”
Presumably “they” being the bad guys.
At the climax of the video, Batman gets a beef jerky stick (“original, not spicy”) and screams about his parents being dead while two excited girls hug him outside the Eaton Centre.
The man behind the mask is Toronto resident and stand-up comedian Alex Brovedani, who can switch between his normal voice and Batman’s deep, throaty growl at a moment’s notice.
I went to college with Alex and I take full responsibility for putting his life on the ruinous path that follows broadcasting school. He was a nice kid studying to be C++ programmer when I stopped him in the student lounge to interview him, in character as an Australian kangaroo boxing commentator, and put the idea of transferring into the broadcasting program into his head. If I could take back time…
Any self-described “social media expert/guru/consultant” who didn’t have a Livejournal back when one needed an invite code to join is a complete fraud. They should also have an ICQ number and can clearly recall the time when Blogger was owned by Pyra and went down at least six times a day. Bonus points to be aware if they can properly identify the significance of the follow — xMOCx. There’s knowledge in having been at the genesis of so-called “social media.”