Rob Ford, it turns out, is a liar. He does smoke crack and someone did videotape him doing it.
Just don’t ask Rob to admit it. “I wasn’t lying,” Rob Ford demurred with as straight a face as he can muster. “You didn’t ask the right questions.”
Har har har. With that whopper, Ford exhibited in the face of preposterous improbability that no matter how far he falls, he can still enrage the left with disarming ease.
“But you!” we impotently protest. “You were quoted as!” we sputter. The audacity of Ford’s retorts reduce the Twittering classes to a withering silence that burns with the white hot rage of an exclamation mark: “!”
What have we learned here? That Ford smokes crack? That there was a video proving the same? Did anyone doubt that the man who promised no service reductions “guaranteed” in his election campaign and then promptly tabled over $700 million in cuts — including nutrition programs, AIDS prevention programs and, um, drug prevention programs — was a liar? Was disingenuous? Was simply taking the piss?
For the better part of Rob Ford’s incredible tenure, I often joked that Toronto had secretly replaced its Chief Executive with history’s greatest performance artist. This became less and less a joke as details about Rob Ford’s private life emerged — allegations of physical and personal abuse, 911 calls from his wife, and deeply troubled accounts of his family — foregrounding the high probability that his antics were putting people besides himself in danger.
But it’s worth pointing out the sheer theatricality, the showmanship, of his extraordinary reign if only to put his lying in perspective: what was the “truth” about his latest lie? That he smoked crack? We knew that already, didn’t we? That he had lied about smoking crack? That lying about crack made him unreliable as a mayor? That his unreliability as a mayor made his policies dangerous? That his dangerous policies called his posturing as a working-class hero into question? Start interrogating the truth of Rob Ford’s lie and we begin to recall Thomas King’s re-telling of astrophysics: it’s turtles all the way down.
A lie is not a bad fact or an untrue statement. It’s a lying, a performance. Those gasping for air at deceptions that would make a Barnum and Bailey’s Ringmaster blush would do well to consider that there is no single perfect “proof” that will undo Ford — and, in fact, even if there were, it’s irrelevant. The single most corrosive lie in the West in the early part of the twenty-first century — that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and was in imminent danger of using them — had nothing to do with Hans Blix or SCUD missles. That is, the “truth” of that lie wasn’t that Saddam Hussein had exactly zero WMDs, or even that Bush, Blair &co wanted a war; rather it’s a much more complex constellation of political intentions, history and competing ideologies leading to a point where Colin Powell’s PowerPoint presentation became the best way at that moment to perform American imperialism. And so the lie came to be. Mission Accomplished.
So too with Ford. What good is truth when a disgraced mayor will pose as an anonymous listener to a radio show in order to defend himself? When he will hire a hacker with city money to destroy a videotape he publicly claims does not exist? What good is truth when the mayor of Canada’s largest city is caught in a photograph, high on cocaine, his arm draped around a subsequent murder victim and two known drug dealers — and the mayor refuses to admit this might be problematic (even if he doesn’t smoke crack)? What is the real story we’re waiting for here?
Hannah Arendt has written that if we look at politics from the perspective of truth, we take our stand “outside the political realm.” For Arendt, this is what gives truth its force: its isolation from social and political influence in idealized institutions of the judiciary and the academy. But we might also interpret her words as suggesting that if we demand our politicians tell the truth, we are asking them to stop being politicians.
Sure, maybe that’s what we want: Rob Ford to stop being a politician. But who will replace him? A liar with better media management skills and who may, as a bonus, teetotal. Rob Ford is the purest form of a politician — an Icarus flown too closely to the sun. A man who through his very existence puts paid to the lie that public office is about dignity, respect and public service. Fordlandia demonstrates with unwavering fidelity that modern elected office is about one thing: power.
Anyone who wishes, as I do, that it were otherwise, should keep Ford in office for as long as possible — to show by emphatic example what happens when we allow our parliaments, our provincial legislatures and our city halls to be populated by careerist, cynical prats.
All politicians lie. It’s not simply a truism, it’s our day-to-day reality. Kicking out a buffoon for being buffoonish with his recreational pharmeceuticals and not, say, for curating policies and practices that hurt people, will do nothing to change this. What we need is to replace our politicians with the right kind of liar — the kind that wants to make the truth different. We need a politician who will replace austerity with generosity, divisiveness with solidarity and pessimism with hope. That’s the kind of lie I can get behind.
Photo: flickr/Jason Verwey