Here’s the thing about Rob Ford, and it strikes me as almost too-obvious to say it (yet again) at this point: He is a simple man. People have a hard time believing that he could rise to the position in government he occupies without being some kind of genius, and indeed I think he has savant-like qualities in connecting with the alienation a lot of people feel from the bureaucracy that’s meant to serve them. But he is not sophisticated, and he is every bit as bumbling and unguarded and unprepared as he appears every time he opens his mouth and talks. For a long time—especially when he was busy winning the election and, in its aftermath, crushing his opposition and ramming his agenda down his opponent’s throats—observers thought he had some kind of carefully hidden mastery of political strategy. That his Homer Simpson persona was a mask concealing a devious tactician.
But, of course, in retrospect, as I was discussing with Ivor Tossell yesterday and as John McGrath and David Hains discussed on Twitter today, those months of rolling over opponents were a crazy, apparently aimless joyride. At that point right after the election when his strength was greatest, when regular politicians lived in fear of the wrath of Ford Nation and grudgingly respected the expressed will of the electorate, he chose not to do anything that would require such great political capital: He didn’t get council to cancel Transit City, or repeal the Land Transfer Tax, for instance. Instead, he pissed away his greatest moment of strength doing things that were already really popular with the electorate. He repealed the Vehicle Registration Tax (which even Joe Pantalone had promised to do), declared TTC workers an essential service (a fiscally reckless move that had the TTC workers’ union crying “don’t throw us in the Briar Patch”!), and contracted out some garbage collection.
[. . . T]he real Rob Ford is every bit as simple and well-meaning, I think, as his lawyer claims. He is open about his ideas and opinions and behaviour, mostly. He tells it like he sees it. He stands up in defiance of the integrity commissioner and council on some questions on principle. And the principle he stands for often is, “Folks, I’m a good guy.” I think he believes it. As the activist Desmond Cole said recently, his attitudes are not mean-spirited; he has a certain “innocence.”
But there’s a point at which this particular type of innocence—a destructiveness that lacks malice because it comes from complete ignorance—becomes inexcusable. If I built a bridge and it collapsed because I am not an engineer and have no idea how bridges work, my steadfast conviction that I had built the best bridge that I could and that I was certain it would be strong (and, in fact, I am certain it was strong and it was a good bridge) would be of little solace to anyone on it when it caved in; I would have had no business building the bridge in the first place, given that I have no understanding of how to build bridges.