Rob Ford’s core constituent support remains strong despite the numbing avalanche of revelations in the past six months. His fans routinely tell reporters and call-in shows that the man is only human, nobody’s perfect, and he’s delivering on his election promises; everything else doesn’t matter. The rest of us slap ourselves on the forehead, baffled (and often weeping): How can anyone possibly still support the man who has redefined “higher office,” especially after all this? Who are these people?
I know them well, despite the fact that my circle of friends consists almost entirely of the centre-left, HBO-watching, downtown Toronto media elite who grew up on alternative culture. We, of all people, should know Ford Nation.
Rob Ford is punk rock. Rob Ford is gangsta. Rob Ford is counterculture.
Anyone, like me, who’s ever been to a show where the performer encouraged the audience to all raise their middle fingers should understand Rob Ford’s f–k-you posturing. Anyone, like me, who thought that primitive musical skill was superior to conservatory learning should understand why Rob Ford doesn’t feel it’s important to have his gut feeling swayed by expert assessments. Anyone, like me, who thinks our political system rewards only mealy-mouthed compromisers should at least recognize that Rob Ford doesn’t bend with the political wind, which is central to his appeal.
So we watch The Sopranos and sit around and talk about what a fascinating, complex character was portrayed by the late, great James Gandolfini, how brilliant the writing was, how it changed television forever. We talk about how Omar is the coolest character on The Wire and admire Stringer Bell’s business acumen. We give a cultural relativist pass to Eminem’s embodiment of A Clockwork Orange’s Droogs, give him Grammys and claim he’s just a storyteller and no, of course he’s not vicariously acting out some strange corners of our own psyche. We can put Snoop Dogg on Sesame Street.
We can bury our love for these characters in as many layers of irony as we want, but we should then also understand why Rob Ford prevails in the hearts of his base.
Naturally, I find Ford’s policies and bullying tactics reprehensible. And right now his (admitted) drunken stupors, (alleged) coked-out rants and (admitted) adventures in crack have yet to produce criminal charges. (That may change—oh, I don’t know, in an hour.) Based on current evidence, if I was remotely sympathetic to anything he stood for, he might be a hero. See: Ted Kennedy, revered lion of the U.S. left, lucky enough to exist before cellphone videos.
Ford Nation is now experiencing the persecution complex Clinton Democrats did in the ’90s; the crack video is their Whitewater, assumed to be delusional character assassination fostered by vowed opponents of a political hero grasping at straws.
Speaking of former heroes, Barack Obama’s approval rating as of this week is 39 per cent, according to CNN. Rob Ford’s approval rate in the last week, after the latest revelations, rose from 39 per cent to 55 per cent.