Somebody working for Tim Hudak, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leader, should slip the Wikipedia entry for “Sister Souljah moment” under their hapless boss’s nose. “Sister Souljah moment” was a term of art in U.S. politics for a while. It denotes a decision by a party leader to cut loose a public figure who might normally be seen as sympathetic, but who is perceived as so extreme that the leader can impress centrist voters by criticizing the extremist.
The term comes from a moment in 1992 when Bill Clinton criticized a black female rapper, a tactic for signalling to centrist voters that he might be worth a look. But the “other examples” Wikipedia mentions help fill out the concept: George W. Bush implied criticism of Robert Bork, John McCain cut Jerry Falwell loose, Barack Obama criticized his own erstwhile pastor Jeremiah Wright.
Hudak, a pleasant fellow who has struggled to cement his leadership of the Ontario Conservatives, has preferred to hold Toronto’s Ford brothers close. He’s planned, at various points, to let Doug Ford, a mean and stupid bully, run as a star candidate for the provincial party at the next election. He has been slow to criticize Doug’s addled little brother Rob. He went a step toward a sense of broader responsibility on Monday when he implied he’d support some move to strip Rob Ford of most mayoral powers. But his tone and vocabulary were tentative and seemed to suggest more sympathy for the Fords than for Torontonians.
There’s another way to play this, and it would have the virtue of, well, virtue: Hudak could call Rob Ford an unfit mayor, reject Doug Ford’s quest to nominate everyone else in Toronto as the villain, and call the brothers’ disgusting behaviour by some appropriate names. In so doing, he would suggest a Hudak government might stand for something; dismiss cronyism; show himself to be more than a blue-team mascot; and give a few Ontarians reason to learn his name.
I write all this even though I have almost no confidence Hudak will show the imagination the situation requires. Politics is full of people who sit cautiously on leads they don’t have, and who put their own team ahead of the electorate.