Why I’d never be in politics, part 2: Even in 2013, your background can sink you.

Last month, I went into a bit of an essay on why exactly I’d have absolutely nothing at all to do with anything political. Simply put, there’s no honesty in it whatsoever–and, in fact, a guaranteed way to see yourself quickly shown the door is to express some of that honesty, whether it’s got support from the people who voted you in or not. I was reminded of this after the National Post published an entire page of letters on the topic, most of them agreeing politics and honesty don’t go all that well together–and referencing recent events like the mess around Toronto mayors and their aledged crack habbits, or the slightly less B-movie-inspiring soap opera around senators and misbegotten tax dollars. What no one on that page mentioned though is you almost need to be willing and more than able to disconnect yourself from reality, if only to distance yourself from your family background, before you even consider the thought of running for office.

For the first time since this broke, I’m going to break my rule and dip my toe into the Rob Ford mess in toronto. Because as this thing unfolds, it escentially explains my point. Let’s leave out, just for the sake of argument, your opinion on how well–or not–Ford managed things with the city since he was elected. That’s a non-issue insofar as this goes, particularly considering he could have spent the last two years in hospital and the city wouldn’t have gone to pieces around him on account of if he’s got no one backing him, he’s got about as much power on council as any one of the guys who decided about the day after he was elected that he had to go. But it outlines one of the problems with running for office pretty much anywhere, on pretty much any platform that makes a degree of sense. As soon as someone decides they don’t agree with you, the gloves come off. It looks vaguely like the toronto Star versus the Fords. Or certain columnists versus Justin Trudeau. Or even normally sensible people versus Stephen Harper (disclaimer: I’m not a Stephen Harper supporter. I just don’t see the point in slagging the guy for breathing.). And the only thing that really gets accomplished is attention is drawn from whichever issue prompted the disagreement in the first place.

I’ll go back to the Ford thing, because it’s happening now and honestly, trying to pull evidence of the Harper thing could take for bloody ever just to sift through it all. Both Rob and his councillor brother Doug could benefit from a quick crash course in public relations management. Or, failing that, a lesson in how not to piss the current ones off. That’s no secret. And whether you’re a Ford supporter or not, that much has to be admitted up front before anything else. And yes, they could probably do with maybe not having shared an opinion or two. But if you really do get what you paid for, then my guess would be the media’s been paying for this since the target was painted. And it translates to roughly what we’re seeing here.

Last weekend, everyone was expecting–in fact, almost demanding–that toronto mayor Rob Ford address accusations that he’s been caught on video smoking crack. Even if it was to deny the reports, they wanted something. This past weekend, Ford finally did deny the reports–and many of the folks who said they’d be fine with that turned around and then said he was lying–that now, the only thing he could possibly do is resign. A side story came up near the end of this past week that says in the 80’s, Doug was a hash dealer. The Globe and Mail had apparently been working on that particular story for 18 months, so this didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the kerfuffle as regards to Rob, but it was released in connection to the last week’s events, as a sort of profile of the Ford family–an indication that, in politics, nothing is off-limits. And folks in the political and journalism arenas have run with it since–the connection being, of course, “Rob Ford smokes–or, at least, smoked–crack. This isn’t new to him. Drugs are in his family.”.

Admittedly not having as sharp of a political nose as I maybe should, I can’t see how a report like that does much more damage to Rob than what he’s already doing to himself, save maybe periferally. The damage, if any at all results from this report by itself, would seem to land more at Doug’s feet–possibly a warning shot in the event he follows through with his brainstorm to run for the provincial conservatives in the next election, whenever that ends up being. But if timing is everything, then by publishing it now, the Globe is hoping I’m wrong in that assessment–and, at the same time, indicating how far outside the arena they’ll go to drive their idea of Doug, and presumedly Rob, home to anyone who’ll listen.

As it stands now, Toronto’s current soap opera goes vaguely something like this. A video exists, say 3 people who’ve seen it, that shows Rob Ford smoking crack. No one except these 3 reporters have seen the video. Ford, acting–his explanation, not mine–on the advice of his lawyer, stayed the hell quiet for a week before denying the reports and saying he’s not adicted to crack and doesn’t smoke crack–choosing his words carefully, in other words, according to a few. “Not good enough. You’re lying. Resign already and get help.” And as if to prove the point, the Doug Ford story comes out. Rob’s older brother, A.K.A. guy with the hash. In his teenaged years, he was the go-to for the good stuff, the report says. Doug, naturally, denies the hell out of it. But still, it’s just one more thing to add to the list where the two of them are concerned. People will react to it how they will, even if how they will roughly equates to not at all, but it shouldn’t have needed to go that far.

The Globe and Mail, as said earlier, was working on this story for a year and a half. Meaning at some point, crackstarter notwithstanding, they planned to release a profile of at least one of the Ford brothers as a teenager involved in the drug scene. Pinning this as a Ford family profile, as they have, implies that crackstarter campaign notwithstanding, they would have gone ahead and published the story regardless because, as the Globe’s editor said, these are people of public interest running on an anti-drug platform.

When explaining to readers how its story was in the public interest, the Globe noted that the Ford brothers hold sway over much of the city’s business and have campaigned on anti-drug platforms.

“The rest of city council, and citizens at large, deserve to understand the moral record of their leaders. In most matters, public or private, character matters,” Globe Editor-in-Chief John Stackhouse wrote in a column accompanying Saturday’s article.

So as a public service to the community, the Globe and Mail decided it had to let the citizens of toronto know that at least one of the men they voted for may or may not have done something stupid in his teens. For the record, I’ve done something stupid in my teens. Sure, it’s not quite on the level of the drug trade (I, like Rob, have a brother who may or may not have done that for me), but I’ve been pretty brainless. Mind, I also have been very careful to stay as far away from public office as humanly possible. Why? Because even if I haven’t done anything more than shoplift at the age of 13, I’ve got family and they’ve got baggage. And, as the Globe and Mail points out above, the voting public would deserve to understand my moral record–especially if I decided, say, to run for office on an anti-drug platform–or, I guess, as of right now on an anti-shoplifting platform. And because my family’s got baggage, any number of today’s current issues could come back to bite me in the rear were I to bother with running for office. Tough versus soft on crime? Check. Legalizing or decriminalizing pot? Check. Upping the penalties for sexual assault? Check. The list goes on. And all it takes is one or two of the several people I’ve crossed paths with that I’ve managed to piss off in the nearly 30 years I’ve been pissing people off and at least one reporter with 5 minutes to catch a story over coffee. Proof? Why, the word of someone who says they knew me is proof enough. What does it matter if I didn’t stand in a public place and pass a joint back and forth with a bunch of other folks? The reporter for the local paper’s got two people I haven’t spoken to since before I was voting age that says I did.

Honesty wouldn’t make a difference in my very hypothetical situation, and it doesn’t make a difference in the Ford mess. Sure, both Fords could be flat out telling the truth. Hell, even one of them could be telling the truth. Of course it’s equally–and some would argue quite a bit more–likely that both of them are flat out lying with a straight face. But it doesn’t matter. Because 3 people saw a video owned by a guy who’d like to remain nameless, Rob’s guilty. Because the Globe heard from people probably still in the drug trade, who because they’re likely still in the drug trade would like to remain nameless, Doug is likely going to end up equally guilty. And whether one, both or neither of them were involved in anything remotely on the north side of the law, this will follow them into any future election one or both of them decide to take on. Doug running for the conservatives in the next election? I can already see the liberal ad campaign. Rob running for another term as Toronto’s mayor? Win or lose that one–and folks are saying he’d win if it happened today, anyone running against him has that to hit him over the head with. They have plenty of other, much more proveable things to beat him over the head with, but tell me that one wouldn’t make the list. It doesn’t have to be true. It just has to stick in the back of someone’s mind long enough for them to get to the polls and stick an X next to someone who’s last name isn’t Ford.

If you have any baggage at all, be it your own or that of a relative, public service of nearly any variety is almost 100% not the place for you. A rare exception is those who, through whatever means they manage to do it, can distance themselves from that baggage and its causes. And even then, it’s only one “investigative report” away from being front page news 30 years later. We all have things we’d have rathered not done. Most of us, I’d like to hope, are smart enough to have learned from those things and maybe aranged things in such away that some of them don’t end up repeated. I don’t plan to be anywhere near public office now, but in 20 years, who knows? Maybe something I write here will be the springboard that pushes me in that direction. Maybe instead I’ll get a job doing AOL style tech support for John Q. Customer and what my uncle was involved in before I was born won’t need to be justified, denied, explained away, covered up or any number of other things people have done to their past before they undertake a career in public service. I’d like to say maybe in 20 or 25 years it won’t matter, but that might be being slightly too generous–and I don’t feel like being that generous. But as long as people’s backgrounds are front page news, because somebody somewhere did something that can be used to make a point, it won’t matter whether you’ve got the next mother Theresa running for office. If you go the dishonest route, you can make a decent living out of it–at least until somebody comes up with a background article that focuses on that drug ring your cousin was arrested for being involved in 2 weeks after you graduated. If you decide to take the honest approach, you’re sunk on sight. Because an anti-drug advocate who was into drugs when he was 16 just can’t happen. And if the guy running opposite you doesn’t make sure of that, the media almost certainly will. Even if you weren’t actually into drugs. For proof, you need only look at Rob and Doug Ford.

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