Being Americans, we tend to ignore foreign countries, even a nearby foreign country like Canada, which is just to the north of us, for those uncertain on geography. Maybe especially a foreign country like Canada because, really, what's going on in Canada? Not much.
Except for Rob Ford, of course, the mayor of Toronto, who has "arguably become the most famous Canadian in the world," according to Robyn Doolittle, the Toronto Star reporter whose new book, Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story examines a man who is the refutation of every cliche about Canadians being dull and ordinary and passive and bitter and resentful and...well, you know. We all know about Rob Ford, blustering around with his various addictions, his cantilevered gut hanging out, like the fatter, drunker, less sophisticated older brother Chris Farley never had.
Now Ford is in Chicago, supposedly, undergoing rehab, perhaps, at an undisclosed location. Or maybe he just passed through Chicago on his way to get rehab somewhere else. Or maybe he isn't in rehab at all, maybe that's just a ploy to get out of Toronto until the heat is off. Maybe he's a a party—that's more likely.
But here's the interesting thing about Ford, in my view. The last poll I saw had him with a 43 percent approval rating. Still. Contrast that with Chicago's fitness fanatic mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose approval rate is 14 percent. So obviously these men aren't being judged on their personal lives. (Makes you wonder if all the chin music about the importance of politicians' characters, particularly during campaigns, is just a pretext for the media digging for private dirt, and for bitter candidate mudslinging. Maybe we don't really care how they behave; we just want the juicy details).
That said, what has Rob Ford done to make himself popular? It can't be the boozing and drug taking, per se, right?
"To his loyal supporters," writes Doolittle, "Rob Ford is a man of the people, someone who has never claimed to be perfect and whose only goal is to defend the little guy; a politician who will return your call, look after your money and tell it like it is."
That isn't quite the high standard that Canadians employ when, oh for instance, condemning the United States. There has to be more than that.
"As mayor, Ford has had plenty of victories," writes Doolittle. "He repealed the unpopular vehicle registration tax, got the TTC designated an essential service"—TTC is the Toronto Transit Commission. In other words, he made the trains run on time— "and secured valuable concessions from the unions."
Union concessions! Well, that ought to be encouraging to Rahm. The public may hate you for trying to fix the pension mess with the unions, but maybe if through some miracle you actually do it, it'll help your shoe-leather-high approval numbers. Or maybe that's just Canadians, who seem to have more of an interest in the real world and its problems than Americans, whose political system at times seems a noxious blend of complete hallucination, blind pig ignorance and concentrated spite.
Still, there has to be some lesson here for Chicago's mayor. Maybe get himself video-taped—not smoking crack, of course, too out of character and it might affect his blood-oxygen levels during his next Triathlon. But maybe...eating a hot fudge sundae at Margie's Candies. A big smear of chocolate around Rahm's mouth, drinking from the little stainless steel pitcher, moaning with pleasure....
I mean, at this point, it couldn't hurt him. Eight hours of crisply-photographed murmuring into a cell phone in the back of a black SUV and reading to kindergartners in CNN's "Chicagoland" only made his popularity problem worse. We need grainy video, late-night Rahm, biting into a jaw-distending Sptritzburger, grease running down his chin. The image that Rahm wants us to see—Rahm Emanuel, hero—isn't going to help him. That's the Rob Ford secret. Voters don't want leaders who think they're heroes. They don't want iron disciplines multi-millionaires with the body-fat index of a hyena. They despise arrogance because it jabs a stick into their own desperate sense of unworth. They want to be led by regular joes, by human beings, even flawed human beings, even complete fuck-ups. Maybe especially complete fuck-ups. Gives 'em someone to feel superior to. People love that. A word to the wise....