“Fifty-three per cent isn’t a good turnout (Toronto municipal election) — it’s time to swallow our pride and start either paying citizens to vote or mandating that they do — but it does mean that the voters who decided the election were positively tattooed with rage.”
-Heather Mallick, “Voters were filled with largely pointless rage,” Toronto Star, October 27, 2010
It’s the rage these days to find consolation in electoral defeat by doubting the mental health of the electorate. Maybe, it has something to do with a waning enthusiasm for the fight or it’s a clever strategy to discredit opponents when they win. As a young lefty long ago myself, I’m attracted to the latter. In any event, the easy suggestion that anyone to the right of Paul Martin Junior must be either brain dead or full of hate and rage should be called out.
The favoured targets of the moment are Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Rob Ford, the mayor-elect of Toronto as well as those who voted for them. One is an overweight introvert and the other is a fat big talker. Both can embarrass. But, does the Prime Minister survive merely on hate and hinterland paranoia? Was the mayor elected by hundreds of thousands of raging bigots? After a quick scan of the post election media, friends at Starbucks, and the positive reception to Lawrence Martin’s biography, Harperland: The Politics of Control, you would think that both men personalize and profit from a deep distemper in Canadian politics.
Whatever you call it, it isn’t new. Liberal partisans and progressives should know that there is nothing novel or particularly Albertan about “hating” Liberals. Red-Tories and New Democrats—when together in opposition, drinking beer at the Press Club—heartily loathed the “natural governing party”. For its part, the leadership of that party raged about vile separatists year in and year out, from coast to coast, for the last forty years. Lawrence Martin reports that Harper resents the way the Reform Party was treated by the Liberals in the 1990’s. Wow! You don’t have to be a paranoid to recall that Preston Manning and the Reform Party were savagely branded as un-Canadian Republican stooges.
How we feel about any politician driven by an abiding determination to “get even” often depends on whether we are on his side or not. Along with Nixon and likely Harper, the Kennedy boys, Winston Churchill, Bill Clinton and Jean Chretien were also motivated by and, in crisis, sustained by pride and righteous competitiveness.
The appeal of an awkward everyman like Rob Ford is not easy to define and usually impossible to anticipate. However, his use of the anachronism “oriental” and his observation that the city is strained by the recent volume of immigration doesn’t make him or his appeal racist. Those who voted to “stop the gravy train” may be disruptive, but let’s not confuse that with unthinking rage.