Some thoughts in defense of “Schadenford”

by chuckofthesea

We on the Left are pretty good at finding both good and bad reasons to make a point of standing apart from what the crowd seems to be feeling. The response to Russell Brand, for instance, was split among those who wanted to cheer a mainstream comedian raising the spectre of “Revolution” to apparently massive public interest on the one hand, and, on the other, those who wanted to focus on the very real political problems with Brand himself. Incidentally, I thought this piece in New Statesmen did a pretty good job of walking the line.

Here in Canada, there’ve been those who want to make a point of standing apart from the Rob Ford dogpile. Some of them do it out of self-righteousness — “tut-tutters,” as they’ve been nicely characterized on the Twitter feed of TV writer and producer Adam Barken. Others, though, are doing it from the Left, couching it in a prolier-than-thou language of populism and anti-elitism. This prompted me, this afternoon, to write the following Facebook status update:

For Left friends critiquing the Ford pile-on from a populist, anti-elite POV: we largely sorted out the difference between working class populist rage & middle class populist rage in the 1930s. The Fords are millionaires, & Etobicoke isn’t a hardscrabble tenement district. Your caricature of “Downtown Elites” is unsophisticated. There is nothing heroic or proletarian about the angry, resentful philistinism of the small businessman epitomized in Ford. In fact, seeing stupidity, classlessness, violence & boorishness as somehow “working class” traits is the snobbery. People in Toronto have the right to fear, mock, deride & be embarrassed by the hateful gangster running their city; this doesn’t make them bourgeois prigs. Ford’s a hateful, racist crook.

In response to this, and (I think) in agreement with what I’d said, a friend of mine — who is a smart, centrist-minded liberal, meaning that, in Facebook terms, we agree on about 50% of each other’s posts, disagree on the other half — posted:

I don’t understand this. Why is wanting a mayor who is literate, at least somewhat coherent and able to understand basic intellectual concepts “snobbish”? […] Also, forgive me, but what it so terrible about being just a titch elitist when it comes to elected officials? I’ve never understood this notion that we should want to have a beer with them. I want them to be smarter than me, better than me, more able to lead this country than I am. Mediocrity ought not to be an asset when it comes to those who seek public office.

Consistent with the ratio I laid out above (let’s call it the Facebook-Liking Ratio of Liberal/Socialist Friendship), I agree with a lot of what he said here. But I was uncomfortable enough to want to put my initial status into a bit more context; this is me again:

There’s a legitimate beef to be had (and I have it) with civic “lefts” and “centres” who have essentially limited their politics to “bike lanes for the people who can afford to stay in the city”; I also think there’s a problem when policy wonkishness becomes a new clericalism keeping people out of the business of government, which is left to technocratic experts. I part ways, though, with those who see Ford as some sort of refracted, perverted manifestation of these legitimate beefs. It’s a similar problem for those of us in Vancouver to the left of Vision Vancouver; a lot of the organized and cultural opposition to VV comes from the Sports Radio Right-wing. They don’t hate VV for handing over the keys to the city to condo developers; they hate them for bike lanes and homeless shelters and backyard chickens. There are always certain segments on the left who think that this vitriol largely exists because the left isn’t doing its job — we’re not making our case strongly enough, so all the (legitimately) angry people line up behind the Fords of the world. There’s something to be said for this idea (for instance, in the States; if the “left” just defends Obama whatever he does, and says anybody who is angry about the way things are is crazy, then people start lining up with the crazies; the Affordable Care Act, which is terrible legislation, has no articulate mainstream critics from the left — so if you don’t like it, you’ve got to go to the Tea Party). That said, I think that reality is simultaneously a lot more complicated and simpler than this (a lot of the Tea Party, maybe most of them, are just hateful racist dickheads). I’ve never been convinced by the “scratch a right-wing populist, you’ll find a leftist underneath’ school. I think it comes from a reductive, vulgar version of “class” politics. I think right-wing populists are just as often motivated by deeply and genuinely felt racism/sexism/conservatism, and in those cases I’m more inclined to make common cause with a “Latte Liberal,” albeit without giving up my criticisms of their politics.

All of which is just to say that: without losing our heads, let’s not be puritanical about “Schadenford” as a politico-cultural phenomenon. Without caving in to the worst anti-fat, snobbish, or anti-drug excesses of those pointing the finger at the Ford brothers, I think we can still safely take a bit of smug comfort in the implosion of a vile, right-wing demagogue. Without losing sight of the seriousness of what’s going on — I don’t give a shit about him smoking whatever he wants to smoke, but people have been killed and allegedly extorted and whatever Ford himself has or hasn’t done, city hall is clearly terrifyingly close to organized crime — it’s a fucking pleasure to see Ford’s until-now-allies (tough-on-crime hypocrites like Stephen Harper or Don Cherry) made to look like idiots. It’s brings a smile to my face to see the proscribed, free market view of democracy — Ford characterized his job as being to “save taxpayers’ money” — uttered by a man just as buffoonish as the idea itself.

PS I didn’t say “alleged” in my private Facebook status. But of course, presumption of innocence is more than just a nicety. So, obviously, beyond the hard facts laid out here, all crimes that haven’t been successfully prosecuted or connections that haven’t been proven are alleged.