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Schadenfreude, evidence and politics: A half-hearted defence of Rob Ford

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Rob Ford

Schadenfreude is all very well, but this whole Rob Ford video scandal has me feeling just the tiniest bit hinky.

It's a due-process thing, and I recognize that there can be no due process in politics, as unjust as that may seem.

No, realpolitik demands that the operative rule in politics be summed up in the notion we abbreviate with the phrase "Caesar’s wife," although it might more accurately be expressed as "Caesar’s Ex-wife." To wit, the idea mere associates of public figures, not to mention the public figures themselves, must be above suspicion. End of story. (We'll discuss Nigel Wright's $90,172 gift to Senator Mike Duffy some other time, OK?)

Still, my problem with the journalistic prosecution (as opposed to persecution, I guess) of Toronto's thoroughly disreputable and embarrassing mayor for being seen in a video by someone smoking something that is said to be crack cocaine is that there is really no evidence for this beyond hearsay from a small group of people, not all of whose motives may be entirely pure.

To wit: I haven't seen the video, and neither have you -- unless you're the guys who took it, one of two Toronto Star reporters who watched it on a cellular phone in a smelly automobile or the editor from a gossip website in the United States, where, as we all know, you can say pretty well anything about anyone and get away with it if they're a public figure.

But even if I had seen the video, I'm not sure I’m capable of telling what anyone depicted in a cell-phone image is smoking, even if it's pretty clear they were smoking something.

Which is where the schadenfreude comes in. Of course it's satisfying to see the mighty brought low, especially when the mighty one in question is an arrogant and ignorant so-and-so who espouses positions on just about every issue that I personally find to range from idiotic to outright repugnant. So it’s fair to say I'm ill disposed toward the guy

What's more, the mayor in question exhibits a range of behaviour from his driving habits, to voting in council to excuse himself from paying back lobbyists for political donations, to his defence of his private property line that seem entirely inappropriate under the circumstances and which he seems to think were completely reasonable. So, on top of the last point, I'm quite prepared to think ill of him.

Finally, now that he's been accused, the guy insists on behaving in a way that screams guilt -- he won't discuss the specifics with anyone or even indicate what he plans to do next. So, it's darned hard not to just say to heck with him, and assume he's guilty.

Perhaps my problem is that what he’s now accused of doing -- instead of backing policies I disagree with or generally behaving like a lout -- is an actual Criminal Code offence, and that makes me want to think some of the standards of the courtroom ought to be observed, even in the realm of politics.

On that topic, Bill Clinton admitted he smoked pot, even if he didn't inhale, Barry Obama supposedly smoked a little too, and we probably all wish Prime Minister Stephen Harper had also smoked something, and maybe inhaled as well!

Regardless, are we confident the two known Canadians making the accusation Rob Ford was smoking crack are without an agenda?

They work for the Toronto Star, after all, and the Star has been involved in a crusade against Mayor Ford, ever since he stupidly refused to talk to the newspaper's reporters because he didn't like the coverage it was giving him. This may prove he’s an idiot who doesn't listen to his PR counsel, but I'm not sure how much we can extrapolate from that.

However, there have been several times I thought the Star went over the top on this war too. Didn't they go after the guy for being caught eating fried chicken when he was supposed to be on a diet, for heaven's sake? Well, I'll have to plead guilty to that particular sin myself, I'm afraid.

So do I distrust the Star reporters' conclusion that it was definitely Mayor Ford in the video and that he was most assuredly smoking crack? Like Richard Nixon, let me say this about that: I don't doubt they saw what they said they saw, but I'm not certain I completely trust their deductive powers.

As for the drug dealers trying to sell the video, supposedly for $200,000, excuse me, but these guys just don't sound like public-spirited citizens. As for their appearance with Hizzonor, having one's picture taken with a politician hardly makes one an associate.

Then there is the matter of purely practical politics. Are we going to call for the resignation of every politician accused of doing something unsavoury, as the Star did in the case of Mayor Ford yesterday? If so, get ready for politicians you agree with to be subjected to the same demand on similar or weaker evidence, probably sooner than later.

And imagine what will be said of the left, the centre and the media in the event Ford can somehow establish, say, that it wasn't him, or that he was just blowing bubbles!

Moreover, you've got to admit, every minute Mayor Ford now remains in office is a bonus for progressives. The guy is not exactly a stirling reference for the people who see the world the same way he does, like his pal and Wright's boss, Prime Minister Harper, for example.

Mayor Ford is a disgrace. He richly deserves to be voted out of office. If he committed a Criminal Code offence while in office, I'll personally be delighted to call for his head.

But it's said here that the Star's case doesn't make the grade, even by the low standards necessary in politics. Not just yet anyway.

This genie won't go back in the bottle. It's time to make the video public so we can judge for ourselves.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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