Friday, November 29, 2013

The Case for Rob Ford

By this point in time, unless you've been living under a rock or in the Dakotas, you've heard of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Ford has made more headlines than a Kardashian over the past couple months and by the looks of things, he's just heating up. If you aren't familiar with Ford, here's a trailer from the 1996 Chris Farley classic Black Sheep to get you up to speed.

Ford has grabbed headlines for a myriad of reasons, ranging from reading while driving, admitting to smoking crack cocaine and most recently ensuring that the public knows he's, "got more than enough to eat at home". (Fair warning, Ford's language is quite graphic here so peruse at your own risk.)

That said, I feel compelled to defend Ford from the bashing he's been taking at the hands of the media over the past few weeks. I want to preface this by saying that in no way am I defending his actions. He's made some terrible decisions, he represents himself poorly in public and politically we have very different views.

However, Ford represents a phenomena fairly unique to American and Canadian politics. We base political decisions on the private lives of our politicians. We possess an insatiable desire to know every mundane detail about their lives and when we find something we dislike, view as immoral or dishonest we instantaneously jump to the assumption that this person is unfit for political service.

To me, this is a problem. When it comes down to it I couldn't care less about someone's personal life compared to their political record and success. I'm not voting for this person to be my friend, I'm voting for this person to ensure that environmentally, socially, economically, and militarily my nation is secure, sustainable and responsible. (Yes, I intentionally put environmentally first, but that's an issue for another post.)

I don't care if my President has smoked a joint if he can open nuclear negotiations with Iran and launch one of the biggest social programs the nation has seen in nearly half a century. I don't care if a senator has had an extra-marital affair so long as he's willing to draft and pass legislation which creates subsidies for companies investing in renewable energy sources. I don't care if a governor or mayor is smoking crack cocaine if they're passing legislation which gives tax breaks to middle and low income earners.

I don't need to associate with these people, I don't need to like them. In no way am I required to agree with the choices they make in their personal lives. John F. Kennedy remains the embodiment of Democratic values (although Jimmy Carter really should be the person who possesses that role) despite the fact that he was engaged in an extra-marital affair with Marilyn Monroe, which the press was aware of. That would be like Barack Obama going behind Michelle's back with Kate Upton. Did that prevent Kennedy from standing firm during the Cuban Missile Crisis?

And I'm not singling out Kennedy for his actions. Bill Clinton's scandal with Monica Lewinsky stole headlines only a decade and a half ago. While Clinton was impeached he was later acquitted and served out the remainder of his term. Did Clinton's extra-marital affair prevent him from reporting budget SURPLUSES during the last three years of his term?

Even our most recent President George W. Bush came under fire for alcohol abuse in his early life. I can't believe I'm going to defend George Bush, but the fact that an incident that happened in the 1970's should have any bearing on his life floors me. Did Bush's struggle with substance abuse prevent him from dodging a shoe!? Okay maybe not the best example, but that's the only positive I found from his presidency and you get my point.

In other countries the degree to which we delve into the lives of our politicians would not only be out of place, it would be entirely alien. A recent scandal in the Mayoral election of Auckland, New Zealand is substantial not because of the scandal itself, but because it, "has raised fears it could herald a grubby new era in which the sex lives of politicians, traditionally seen as beyond the purview of the media, become fair game." You can read the full article from CNN here.

I can't fathom being unfaithful to someone you love, I'm not going smoke crack cocaine, nor will I likely be reading while driving and I wouldn't have a lot of respect for someone who was to do so. I wouldn't be friends with this person and odds are I would generally dislike them, but the reasons why Rob Ford is in the public spotlight are inconsequential to me. If you're going to attack Ford, attack his political life, attack the decisions he's made regarding public transportation or staffing cutbacks, but don' simply focus on his private life.

We constantly critique our political system for being immoral, dishonest or corrupt and I can't help but wonder if maybe we're the problem. Maybe if we didn't think of our politicians as The Real Housewives of D.C. we wouldn't be in the midst of economic recession. Maybe if we didn't worry so much about whether Mike Michaud was gay we wouldn't need to worry about whether it'll be alright for women in Maine to grow beards for the next four years thanks to Paul Lepage.

Maybe if we payed as much attention to our politicians' political stances as we do to their sex lives, substance abuse issues and personal flaws then maybe, just maybe, we can start to make politics about, well... politics, again.

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