Politics as a Story -or- Rob Ford, Tragic Hero?

I am not a political creature by nature. I was not raised in a household that discussed governmental goings-on at any level. As children, we were not taught to lean left or right on the political spectrum. Indeed, we were not even encouraged to vote unless we knew anything about the issues, most of which did not affect me personally at the age of 18. All I knew for a long time was that I had homework to do, chores to complete, a job to perform. No one told me knowing stuff about things was important.

Today, as a property owner who pays taxes, I've learned a lot about how politics and policy works and why civic engagement is important. I am more aware than I ever was about the goings-on at Toronto City Hall.

And so we come to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

I don't want to get into my personal gripes with him or his policies. I have been quite vocal about him on Twitter, and I apologize to my followers for the vitriol. But when an elected official who is supposed to represent your city to the world becomes a regular punchline on the nightly news shows, a meme on the internet, and a ten-minute sketch on Saturday Night Live, I feel ashamed. He does not represent my city or my country. And what little pity I've had for him has quickly become contempt.

Why is this important to me and why, as an author, am I discussing this on my blog?

The narrative arc—politics as an exercise in story and character

The world is a big place, and frankly, most of us are too busy with our everyday lives to consider how our beliefs and actions affect every single member of society. I think we sometimes take for granted how interconnected the world is, how policy and laws can affect us on a personal level, and how the individuals elected to help make those decisions in turn affect policy.

That's not to say politicians haven't tried to connect their policies with real, human experience in an effort to get us to care. When was the last time you heard a speech that didn't involve a story about someone who's "just trying to make ends meet"?

It seems to me the cynical among us have stopped hearing such heartrending stories, regardless of whether we can relate to the tale. Perhaps it's reality fatigue. They wonder, instead, how they are being manipulated. Some are angry with the state of their lives, blaming current or past governments for their troubles; and some have given up all hope of things ever changing. We are all so tired of hearing the same BS that we've stopped listening or paying attention.

The importance of words, big and small

Rightly or wrongly, some politicians use this voter malaise to their advantage. They craft their policies—their message—in simple, easy to remember catchphrases. "Respect the taxpayers," "Subways, subways, subways," and "gravy train" drove Rob Ford's campaign, and one could argue his ability to stay on message helped him win the election in 2010. Distilling a candidate's priorities thusly helps voters decide where to cast their ballots without looking too deeply into any of the complex issues...and without looking too closely at a candidate's history, both personal and political.

Like I said, most of us don't have time to know all the stuff about all the things, so I can't blame anyone for how they voted. But if we'd known even a fraction of what we know now...could we have seen this coming? Would it have changed our votes?

Rob Ford, Shakespearean tragedy

Since the crack scandal broke, the writer in me has been nodding along as events unfolded. I've watched the daily gravy train wreck as one might watch a house burn down, each stick of furniture consumed by the flames of his scandal while the man himself sits inside, sweating and insisting nothing is wrong. Some admire his gumption, as if he is the lone sheriff standing against a black-hatted posse. They blame the media for bullying him, heedless of the police reports, even blaming the authorities for doing their job.

But as the details of his illicit dealings came to light, his personal history laid out, the hypocrisy of his policy-making decisions became abundantly clear. Rob Ford is the unreliable narrator of his own personal tragedy, a man whose word we cannot trust, no matter how much we really want to.

I am only a writer of fiction. I am not a political pundit with a poli-sci degree. I barely understand what goes on day-to-day in city council. But I know a tragic hero when I see one, borne of his own personal foibles, misguided ambitions and poor choices. Sadly, Rob Ford is not a character in fiction. He is a flesh-and-blood man who needs serious help.

Resign, Rob. Resign and avoid the final act. Tragic heroes rarely get to ride off into the sunset.

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