Anderson Cooper: “Is being too drunk to remember smoking crack an explanation you would accept from your mayor?”
Conan O’Brien: “The mayor was charged with being way too exciting for Canada.”
Craig Ferguson: “How come he’s still in office? I think Canadians are just too polite to tell a crackhead to step down.”
Funniest joke of all? Rob Ford is up in the polls.
The mayor’s approval rating jumped five points to 44 per cent after the crack scandal blew wide open, a Forum Research survey of Torontonians found.
Which means we should see Stephen Harper hot-knifing hash outside the Senate at 4:20 this afternoon. If all it takes to get in the voters’ good books is a little bad behaviour. . . .
Put Rob Ford aside for a minute. The man is sick, a train wreck, a punch line that has worn thin. Consider this question — a serious one — instead: What does it say when the public is unfazed by stories like his? Voters have long been willing to elect a flawed politician, right back to our hard-drinking first prime minister, John A. Macdonald. “There’s only room for one drunk in this government,” he once told D’Arcy McGee, “and unfortunately for you, that position’s already taken.”
Next door, Albertans knew what they were getting in Ralph Klein, so put up with him even when the pie-eyed premier burst into a homeless shelter, berated its residents and threw money at their feet. Jean Chrétien, a career politician who somehow positioned himself as an ordinary guy, throttled a protester and Canadians cheered.
When charismatic leaders — Pierre Trudeau, Bill Vander Zalm — fail to live up to high hopes, people turn on them, but nobody complains when a known skunk stinks. Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards, who once boasted, “The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a live boy or a dead girl,” won four terms despite being seen as corrupt. In 1991, when he beat former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, the bumper stickers read “Vote for the Crook” and “Vote for the Lizard, Not the Wizard.”
We’re also forgiving when leaders show previously unseen signs of human frailty. The B.C. Liberals jumped seven per cent in the polls in the weeks after Gordon Campbell was busted for drunk driving in Maui in 2003; when the premier was eventually hounded from office, it was because he had blindsided British Columbians with the HST, not because of any personal impropriety.
Ford, though, takes things to an extreme. He revels in his unpolished, shirttail-hanging-out image, gets away with stuff that others wouldn’t. “He’s like your drunk uncle who puts his foot in his mouth,” says University of Victoria political scientist Janni Aragon.
“People kind of put up with it.”
At the same time — and this is the sobering part — many people think all politicians are corrupt, so aren’t disappointed when Ford behaves badly.
What’s most troubling is not that Ford behaves so terribly, but that so many of us aren’t surprised or disappointed by it.
Don’t think of this as just a Toronto story. It’s a national, international malaise. When we set the bar so low for politicians — whether they be Ford, Harper or Duffy — we invite this result.
Jack Knox, Kamloops born and raised, writes for the Victoria Times Colonist.