It's hard to leave Canada, as I am today, what with Toronto being the center of the political scandal universe. In my talks on biking here in Ontario, I've made it a point to thank my Canadian audiences on behalf of all Americans for distracting the world from stuff happening south of their border like, I don't know, government shutdowns, disastrous roll outs of major health care programs, Sarah Palin -- that sort of thing.
And so, a few observations on the Rob Ford mess before I head home.
First, it's just hard to get your head around. The mayor of San Diego was recently forced to resign because he was a serial groper. Yes, bad enough all right. He got what he deserved. But when you have so many scandals that you need a chart to follow them, groping would seem like the least of it.
At least Rob Ford may have paid for his groping. Yep, prostitutes were seen in the mayor's company. He also smoked crack. On video. Which he lied about until the video was confirmed. He also admitted to buying illegal drugs. Another video shows him obviously higher than a kite threatening to kill a guy and assuring his listeners that he could accomplish the task in fifteen minutes tops. At a council meeting Wednesday, he physically confronted a council member in front of the whole body, not to mention a live video feed that was going out worldwide. Oh yeah, and maybe he was involved in a murder.
All of this can loosely be described as bad press. So how can this guy possibly still be in office? Well, for one thing, Canadian law makes it really hard to remove a sitting mayor. Basically, he'd have to be convicted of something and sent to prison. The Toronto council passed a resolution asking him to take a leave of absence. He said no.
But that brings me to my second observation. After he admitted to smoking crack and lying about it, his approval numbers went up. How can that be? It's the populist appeal of the guy. Rob Ford's whole schtick is that he's "standing up for the little guy," a theme he repeated on the council floor yesterday before he threatened to beat up a councillor. Never mind that Ford has been the scion of a printing company family since birth. Somehow he pulls it off. His supporters are so blinded by it that they will forgive him apparently for just about anything. They'll even buy the argument that the poor guy is just being hounded by an "elitist" press. They'll even buy Rob Ford bobblehead dolls.
Which brings me to my final point. Any of this sound familiar? Maybe it's time for me to stop my gloating as an American, because Rob Ford is just a more colorful version of Texas tea party darling Ted Cruz. No, Cruz hasn't killed anyone, and as far as anybody knows he hasn't smoked crack. But he did try to run the government into a ditch and succeeded for awhile.
There's a simmering populist revolt out there that guys like Ford and Cruz are capitalizing on. Rather than feeling a little smug as Americans, it's a good time for us to reflect on the damage done by these sorts of populist movements (both right and left) in our own country. They happen when those in power somehow fail to connect with lots of people who had previously been so disaffected that they stayed out of the political process altogether. And when they become engaged they become enraged, egged on by people like Rob Ford.
Those of us who consider ourselves to be part of a sensible mainstream need to figure out what we can do to reach the disaffected before they send us another Rob Ford or Ted Cruz.