The defense proffered by Toronto mayor Rob Ford, caught in a video smoking crack, is astoundingly, bracingly forthright: “Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine… Probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago." Let the smoke settle on that one: He’s seeking absolution for drug use by claiming annihilation by alcohol. The ancient Greeks might have called that hubris. I call it genius.
I think the Toronto mayor -- about whose politics I know almost nothing, other than that they manage to combine stupidity and dishonesty in ever-more original arrangements -- has chosen the shrewdest defense available to him, calculating that his white constituents’ fascination with crack cocaine makes him seem more like a cultural adventurer than a desperate fiend.
The icky conclusion I’ve come to is that Ford chose the perfect drug to abuse. The images first published last year by Gawker show Ford -- a corpulent suburbanite who appears to have bad scruples and worse grooming habits -- hugged by two black men (another person stands in the foreground). The three young men are believed to have been gang members; one of them was later killed in a shooting.
There he is, the mayor of North America’s fourth most populous city, glowing with derangement, a kid gone utterly astray. And yet, as the scandal widens, Ford says he will remain in office “for the sake of the taxpayers.”
The reason for Ford’s confidence, I suspect, is crack, and the hold it continues to have on our imagination: It’s the drug of the urban underclasses, propelling all those erratic crackheads onto our city streets, passed through plywood-covered windows in exchange for crumpled dollar bills. Much of this was merely media propulsion: the 1993 film Menace II Society, with that scene of a crackhead offering fellatio for drug money, after the offer of cheeseburgers falls flat; the supposed epidemic of crack babies, which has since been shown to have been so much hysteria. Whitney Houston saying in 2002 “I make too much money to ever smoke crack... Crack is whack" -- echoing the famous Keith Haring mural in a Harlem playground -- only added to the drug’s mythology.
Enter Rob Ford, 300 pounds of Irish suburban Archie-Bunker bunkum, promising to wrest Toronto from all those libruls who want to turn it into a slightly more frigid version of San Francisco. His love of alcohol is well-known, and will probably require at least 24 steps, if not 36, to tame. His fondness for crack -- however short-lived he claims it was -- is surprising and, to be honest, kind of thrilling. It’s like reading about some hockey bruiser who plays classical piano. Huh. Didn’t know he had it in him.
Because, see, white people don’t smoke crack. White people love to talk about crack -- how cracked-out they feel after Monday morning’s third meeting, how a fourth cup of Starbucks makes them feel as if they were on crack, how a bad hair day renders them in a crackhead’s frizzled image. There is even the white man’s crack, methamphetamine, which has done to rural areas what those white rocks have done to the ghetto.
Rob Ford has jumped this cultural divide. He ventured into a black neighborhood to use a black drug with black men. In other words, he has done what every kid from Omaha who has listened to Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers knows he will never be able -- or want, really -- to do.
Last year, the National Post of Toronto reported that some residents were upset because Ford seemingly spent more time coaching football than governing his city. His response was indignant and impassioned, as are his responses to pretty much everything: “There’s no one that helps black youth more than Rob Ford... These are kids who have nothing.” This is sad stuff -- altruistic exploitation. But it seems to be working, so expect to see a lot more of it from politicians everywhere.
I am not celebrating urban poverty, institutionalized racism, drug abuse, or anything Rob Ford has ever done in or outside of public office (including that hair; especially the hair), but I’d wager that if the video showed the mayor with prostitutes or even cocaine, he’d already be filing for unemployment. A fat white guy who gleefully goes into a black neighborhood to smoke crack? That’s almost, like… cool. So aggressively transgressive, a walk way on the wild side. Ford is the Lou Reed of municipal governing.
Maybe this premise makes you uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable. But the picture is there. And the mayor is still there, too. The BBC reports that “after Toronto police announced last week that [the crack tape] was in their possession, Mr Ford's approval rating actually climbed five points to a healthy 44%.”
Climbed? Make your own joke about getting high.