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On the limits of scandal-mongering, or why I don't care about Rob Ford's alleged crack use

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All my political ideals and self-conceptualizations, I cannot for the life of me seem to get myself more than superficially interested in the scandals that plague the holders of public office. The Rob Ford crack video hubbub is a case in point.

Yes, it is funny. Yes, there is hardly a politico more deserving of being knocked down a peg. And now, with even Ford's brother being brought in on the fun with allegations of a drug dealing past, the entire country seems to be locked in the grips of an overpowering case of SchadenFord (no, I am not the first to think that one up).

Yet there is something disturbing in the idea that for all the regressive initiatives embraced by Ford during his two-and-a-half years as Toronto Mayor -- for all his ill-advised crusades against labour, cyclists, libraries, and transit -- it is the as yet unproven crack video, surely the least of his transgressions, that now threatens to do him in.

A similar point can be made about the Senate expenses scandal currently underway in Ottawa. True, this one is different from the crack case insofar as it involves the misuse of public funds, but if we focus solely on the "bad apples" like Wallin and Duffy and Harb and Brazeau, then we lose sight of the wider issue, namely the culture of entitlement inherent in an unelected upper chamber that makes the cultivation of such bad apples practically inevitable. The NDP is taking the enlightened position with respect to this scandal -- criticizing the individuals involved, yes, but also connecting them to something more profound, more systemic, taking the opportunity to renew its longstanding call to abolish the Senate entirely.

And that, precisely, is what's missing from most scandal-mongering, defined as it is by an overemphasis on personalities and an underemphasis on institutions. The Fords and the Duffys of the world, entertaining though they are, do not affect us nearly as deeply as the offices they hold and the policies they implement. Of course those who do wrong deserve to be punished, but the news coverage generated by these individual wrongdoings are completely out of proportion to their true impacts.

We'd do a lot better focusing on what really matters.

Photo: flickr/rhyndman

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