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Ford is a symptom of dumbing down electorate; distraction from real problems

Watching the Rob Ford train wreck play out, I’m reminded of Vizzini in the stellar Princess Bride: “Inconceivable,” he exclaims with each of Wesley’s actions, sure that the next challenge will be the Man in Black’s undoing.

Just when you think Ford’s misconduct has hit bottom, he tunnels deeper – it just never stops, as inconceivable as that seems. Maybe, as Inigo Montoya suggests, that word doesn’t mean what we think it means … at least as it applies to the mayor of Toronto. How could it be otherwise, when it’s inconceivable that he should still have his job.

As others have pointed out, any one of his misdeeds (a word that seems understated in this context) would be enough to shame most politicians into resigning. That he remains despite the fact that the list grows and his responses only make things worse prove that he’s got no shame.

Resigning is inconceivable to Ford.

He won’t go, so he must be pushed. But city council really can’t force him out, which is what led to the most pathetic – and telling – spectacle of this whole ordeal: the antics of Ford and his brother Doug as council debated measures to restrict the mayor’s powers. That meeting shredded any remaining pretense of decorum as the brothers offered up bravado, bombast and bullying.

There was nothing of the mock-contriteness, the apologetic performances that Ford offered up after being caught and caught again and caught out some more in the web of misconduct, lies and cover-ups.

Really, were his words, quickly eclipsed by continued bad behaviour to the contrary, believed by anybody not named Rob Ford’s Mom?

What we saw at the session of city council was the true nature of the Rob and Doug show. Call it reality TV at its ugliest, with the lead characters actually plugging their other, short-lived horror show over on Sun News as they abused their positions as elected politicians right there in council chambers.

If we’ve been seeing a trend towards a dumbing down of the electoral process, the Ford brothers represent the ultimate achievement/failure.

Ironically, the Fords still have their supporters, albeit fewer than when things started to heat up a few weeks ago – the compounding screw-ups have been too much for some, though not all, which is both telling and sad.

I suppose it’s much the same partisanship that sees a certain segment of any politician’s supporters keeping the faith despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. See, for instance, the myths that Conservative governments are good fiscal managers, Stephen Harper believes in accountability, the Liberal gas-plant closures were policy decisions, or politicians and bureaucrats act in the public interest.

With Ford, we see something more akin to the circus that is American politics. Remember the bombast of Sarah Palin? Lots of people voted for her nonetheless.

The late-night-comedians’ dream that is Ford notwithstanding, there’s nothing like watching American politics for sheer entertainment. Unfortunately, it’s more amusement than it is the thoughtful political philosophy of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Yet like the accident on the side of the highway, we can’t help but gawk. It may be dumb, but we can’t help ourselves.

As Canadians, we have the luxury of watching at a distance. The theatre of the absurd playing out as a matter of routine to the south of us – we can hope the Ford thing is an anomaly – could be a version of our future. Go beyond the “entertainment” value of the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Newt Gingerich and we see just what politics has become in the U.S., and what it’s threatening to become here. Dumb. Partisan. Bereft of policies. And the opposite of an engaged citizenry, despite the populist trappings.

Yes, Americans are angry. And scared. They have every right to be, given the state of their economy. But the anger is directed at the wrong targets. Supporters of the Tea Party movement who vote for fringe candidates do so in direct opposition to their own best interests. There’s the obvious stuff – the so-called grassroots organization was created and funded by the billionaire Koch family, which has been working for decades to undermine the public good for its own benefit. Then there’s the underlying issue of corporatism and consumerism-trumps-citizenship, far more difficult to get on the agenda, let alone resolve.

The problems in the U.S., and to a lesser extent in Canada, are complex. Partisan sniping and sloganeering won’t help. Apparently, that’s the best we can do. That’s why we have pundits yelling on TV. Ersatz politicians using homey platitudes. And issues reduced to the lowest common denominator.

If voters are so polarized that they can’t see the obvious – they’ve truly drunk deeply of the kool-aid – then we can never have a rational debate about how to move forward.

Of course, that assumes real change is actually a possibility. Keeping the public occupied with mindless partisanship, petty bickering and, above all, pop-culture distractions works out just fine for those who are happy with the status quo: the real power elites who have no interest in changing a good thing.

Powerful corporate interests spend millions to influence public policy, from fighting public health care to quashing environmental controls. Their efforts pay off. And the rest of us pay the price, including footing the bill for the massive costs.

Despite Ford’s assertions, the gravy train rolls on. The buffoonery is just a distraction from the real tragedy.

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