I’ve been riveted by the Rob Ford debacle, but I am conflicted about it. On the one hand, Rob Ford is – and always has been – a repugnant, pugnacious, pig-headed, hypocritical, right-wing bully, so there’s something kind of appealing about watching him self-destruct in such a spectacular way. I just want to grab some popcorn and sit down to watch the news…even the re-runs are good. On the other hand, I sometimes see hints of humility and glimpses of misery and I’m reminded that beneath that ugly veneer there’s a human being in extraordinary pain. He’s losing everything that matters to him, with the possible exception of his dysfunctional family, and I probably shouldn’t be enjoying the spectacle. To quote a 2008 article by John Barber 2008 article, “Watching is ghoulish, not watching impossible.”
For what it’s worth, I don’t believe Rob Ford’s addicted to crack cocaine. He’s way too fat for that. (Nor do I believe his claim that he just did it once.) He does have a monumental drinking problem though. His drinking has led him to risk everything that presumably matters – or should matter – to him: his job, his staff, his reputation, his volunteer coaching gig, his driver’s license, his life, other people’s lives. In the last week alone, Toronto City Council, the Toronto Argonauts, the Santa Claus Parade, Ford Motors and Iceberg Vodka have all taken steps to distance themselves from him. (On the other side of the ledger, Charlie Sheen has come out publicly in support of him.)
If this were happening to a politician I liked – or even one I was indifferent to – I would be sympathetic. Bad enough that his career and personal life are spiralling out of control, but how humiliating for it to happen in full public view. The media attention is intense and relentless. (Of course if he would just stop saying such outrageous things every day, the media might look elsewhere for news, but he can’t seem to help himself.)
I was talking to a friend the other day – someone who has zero interest in politics and who has a long (and ongoing) history of addiction – and he said, “What the hell is wrong with that guy? He should just take a pill and go hide somewhere. He’s gotta be on drugs to keep doing what he’s doing when it’s so obvious to everybody else that it’s over for him.”
I think a big part of the reason Ford won’t step aside or step down is that he lives in a sports metaphor. In his simplistic world view, you never give up, no matter how hopeless it looks, no matter how badly you’re losing. As long as you’re conscious, you stay in the game – you owe it to yourself, your teammates and fans. Rob Ford simply cannot throw in the towel; he lacks the flexibility, self-awareness and good judgement to re-evaluate the situation and concede defeat.
I feel for his wife, Renata. He has kept her out of the public spotlight throughout his entire political career, trotting her out only twice: once on election day, and again on Thursday when he told the media, in these exact words, that he didn’t eat some other woman’s pussy because he had more than enough to eat at home. (Bizarrely, he appeared to think he was taking the moral high ground here.)
Quite apart from being crude and disrespectful to women in general and to his wife in particular, I think we all could’ve done without that picture in our heads. He called a press conference a couple of hours later, and his wife was made to stand by her man, looking awkward, while he apologized for saying it. He didn’t apologize to her – he didn’t even acknowledge her presence – he apologized generically, and angrily.
You have to wonder what was going through her mind at that moment. Was she wondering if everybody was looking at her and thinking about her aforementioned pussy, which figured so prominently in his latest screw-up? Was she thinking about how unbearable it would be if he lost his job and stayed home 24/7? Was she thinking about the time she had him arrested and removed from the house during a domestic assault? Was she thinking about what a pig he is? I’d bet anything she was not thinking that she loves him so much she’d do anything for him, even this.
I wonder how it’s all going to end?