The Droz Report, Number 7
The Brothers Ford reveal the naked truths of the neo-cons
Originally published in this week's edition of True North Perspective.
"Well good luck to Margaret Atwood. I don’t even know her. If she walked by me, I wouldn’t have a clue who she is ... Tell her to go run in the next election and get democratically elected. And we'd be more than happy to sit down and listen to Margaret Atwood." — Toronto City Councillor Doug Ford explains the workings of democracy.
It's been a bad week for Toronto's Ford brothers, Mayor Rob and his brother, Councillor Doug, but a good week for satirists.
Last Friday, according to a Toronto woman named Ottilie Mason, Mayor Rob Ford gave her and her six year-old daughter the finger after Ms Mason and child gave Ford a "thumbs-down" for talking on a cell-phone while at the wheel of his minivan.
Around the same time, the Mayor's brother Doug was taking on the noted Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, who had dared to enter the political conversation, in defence of the city's public library system.
Doug's mocking lie, that there were more libraries in his area than Tim Horton's outlets, had set the public's outrage alight and Atwood was leading the charge.
But Ford was having none of it. "Tell her," the City Councillor said, "to go run in the next election and get democratically elected. And we'd be more than happy to sit down and listen to Margaret Atwood." But, went the unspoken addendum, until you're One of Us, just shut up.
All this came in the context of a city facing a $700 million budget shortfall and a Mayor who was champing at the proverbial bit to slash away at already-strained public services: libraries, day-care, health-care and zoos — all fair game in Rob Ford's City of Toronto.
The mayor had run for election promising to cut the fat at City Hall, but it soon became obvious there was very little fat still clinging to the body of municipal government, as the veteran municipal politician no doubt knew full well.
It's tempting to just laugh at the Mayor and his brother's boorishness and ignorance, but it is dangerous indeed to stop at mockery.
At least as far back as those halcyon days when Ronald Reagan suggested ketchup was a vegetable and mused that trees pollute more than cars, many of us in the political centre and on the left have responded with incredulous laughter, nudging each other in the ribs and revelling in our own cleverness at seeing through the ignorance and stupidity of what was then called the "new right".
And yet, almost without being noticed, those we mocked so heartily were, slowly but very surely, pushing the centre of the western world's political discourse ever farther to the right.
All over, government was in retreat, unions were in retreat; corporate taxes were falling and workers wages were too; roads were crumbling and family doctors grew scarce.
By the time the 21st century dawned, it was open season on social services and workers' rights and, after 9/11, on the basic human rights of life itself as well.
In the United States, torture and assassination became open tools of state and citizens were stripped naked under X-ray eyes just for the privilege of boarding an airplane. Another "idiot", George W. Bush, stole at least one (and probably two) elections, with barely a blink of a journalist's eye.
Even when they lose, they win; Barrack Obama is pushing policies far to the right of anything Ronald Reagan would dared to try. Is it any wonder the average American despairs of government when that Great Liberal Hope offers the remaining fragile pillars of the New Deal as a sacrifice for a short-term budget deal?
In giving the finger to a mother and her young daughter, and in dismissing with open contempt Canada's most respected writer, the brothers Ford have done us all — especially the people of Toronto — a favour. By their almost slapstick rudeness, the Fords have revealed the truth of their agendas and their attitudes.
Pragmatically, their agenda is to continue the work of gutting government's ability to act on behalf of its citizens (that's you, and me) and in their attitudes, they have exposed a profound and profoundly elitist contempt for the people of Toronto and for democracy itself. Their bad manners have exposed a sense of angry entitlement that beggars the kind of arrogance and elitism of which the Right so often accuses its opponents.
Yes, we have every right to mock and to laugh, just as, south of the border, satirists like those on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report ream the voodoo economics, the marital infidelities and the luncatic lies of Michelle Bachman and Glen Beck.
But there is a danger in mockery, if we are satisfied just to laugh. No matter how ignorant, no matter how dishonest, the neo-conservative right has set the political agenda for the past 30 years and its movement has survived bigger set-backs than this one.
We can laugh at the likes of Rob Ford, and his brother Doug, but Rob is still Toronto's Mayor, with three years left in his mandate; he can and will do a great deal of damage if he is permitted to, and whoever follows him will be hard-pressed to repair it in the time they will have in office.
It is worth remembering the truism that it is far easier to destroy than to create.
Let us have our fun when we can; we need the release, the catharsis. But let's not mistake satire for action. Watching the Daily Show is no substitute for the hard work of organizing.
It is time for those of us who believe in the virtue of collective action — of government, among others we have of working together — to take a lesson from the Right.
It is time to create think-tanks and journals, to launch and to fund websites and newspapers. The hypocrites who are now in the ascendancy spent many decades in the wilderness and so too will we. When Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan "suddenly" took power in the 1970s and 198s, they did so on the back of long days and nights of organizing.
It is time, too, to listen to the concerns of those we far too often dismiss as reactionary. It is time to listen to the men who can no longer support a family, to the women whose main concerns are crumbling schools, not gay marriage, and to those who feel threatened and overwhelmed by the myriad of changes happening around them.
Councillor Ford said he didn't know Margaret Atwood and didn't care to listen to her unless she got herself elected to City Council. We must not make the same mistake with the people who do not immediately share our sense of humour.