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Rob Ford and the politics of anger

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One of my favourite scenes in cinema is Peter Finch's rain-soaked, pajama-clad Howard Beale commandeering the airwaves to bellow he's mad as hell and isn't going to take it anymore.

Much has been said since Monday's municipal election declared Rob Ford the mayor-elect of Toronto. And much of that analysis asks why and how a majority of Torontonians elected a fellow with a checkered past, a millionaire "every-man", an inarticulate and visionless politician who complained about dysfunction at City Hall and gravy trains while spending the last 10 years as a Toronto city councillor.

The phrase most often used to describe the ascension of Ford is "voter anger." This rage against the machine may have blinded many Ford supporters as to the character and measure of this man. Fury with the so-called elite prevented vast swaths of the electorate from seeing that cutting the land transfer tax and the vehicle registration tax will not, despite Ford's claims in an odd and brief CBC interview, lead to better spending at City Hall. Indeed, cuts to these taxes will reduce city revenue and hurt the very programs many Ford-supporters need and cherish.

But logic and reason be damned. Many are mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore.

Anger motivates the Tea Partiers to the south. Those of the tri-cornered hats and "don't tread on me" t-shirts feel that their institutions and governments and employers have failed them. That their pensions, if they even had one, are in jeopardy and their jobs on the brink; leading to a mix of panic for the present and fear of the future.

In the U.S., Obama's message of hope has slipped into despair, with Obama seeking to placate the ragin' hordes with a sweet turn on Jon Stewart's Daily Show. But he knows the mid-terms will be awash with red, ushering in Rob Ford-esque congresspeople who sell simple messages of not taking it from the man anymore. Will this new crop in congress make it all better? Unlikely.

I must admit, I'm glad I was out of Toronto for the weeks leading up to Election Day. It's easy to lose all perspective when caught up in the heady mess of elections. It's a bit too simple to write off Fordites as odd and perplexing, even though I have been guilty on a few occasions of drawing this conclusion.

I understand the politics of anger. It seduced me into being a conservative and kept me there when I used it as tool in election campaigns. Anger is a base instinct to tap into and much easier to appeal to than reason.

Anger is the stuff of anecdotes and good stories. And while those among us that lead lives of reason, logic and hew to evidence, we know that a good yarn will beat dry stats any day.

Rob Ford will learn, one hopes, rather quickly that running Toronto isn't like being the Etobicoke ward boss he's been for the past decade. He will be given far less latitude to make offensive statements or breach ethics rules or not attend important council meetings.

He'll learn that anger can quickly turn on you. At some point he'll find that, as the Korean proverb goes, "if you kick a stone in anger, you'll hurt your own foot."

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