Why America can't get enough Rob Ford

Forget the staid, rule-abiding Canadian thing, Neil Macdonald tells his American neighbours. Our modern pop-culture say-anything politics really are a lot like yours.

Move over Kardashians, Charlie Sheen, we get the celebrity say-anything thing, too

Rob Ford's media blitz

10 years ago
Duration 2:46
A sample of Toronto mayor's interviews with North American news outlets

My dear American neighbours:

Judging from your delighted leers and the daily email links you've been kind enough to provide, I guess I'm supposed to be a bit sheepish about Toronto's mayor, and what he's doing to my country's reputation for monotonous, self-effacing reserve.

Well, first of all, my country's reputation is largely an American invention; most of you don't realize it, but we had some pretty darned wacky politicians long before Rob Ford showed up.

Pierre Trudeau, when he was prime minister, once did a saucy pirouette behind the Queen when she was looking the other way.

Back in the 1970s, the mayor of Ottawa jumped into a public fountain in his underwear. Plus we had a premier in Alberta who used to get drunk sometimes and say insulting things about folks in the Eastern provinces and homeless people.

So the staid, rule-abiding Canadian thing is a bum rap.

That said, Rob Ford does appear to have achieved a level of international fame unrivalled by any Canadian since a former prime minister's wife was running around hotel corridors with the Rolling Stones and wearing no underwear at Studio 54.

For years after that, strangers in faraway countries would grin whenever they met a Canadian and say: "Canadian? Ah. Margaret Trudeau."

Now, I suppose, we're going to have to put up with endless imitations of Rob Ford trying to give himself a heart attack.

But embarrassed? Us? As in "Oh. My. God. He's turning us into a LAUGHINGSTOCK?"

Spare me. The only Canadians I know who actually think that are the Torontonians who never shut up about how cosmopolitan their city is.

The reality is that Rob Ford is our ultimate contribution to the big American freak show. You can't get enough of him, and neither can we.

Late-night comics and blogs are feasting. The Wall Street Journal, for heaven's sake, had him on page one. Your TV networks are racing to Toronto for "exclusive" sit-downs with the mayor and his glowering sibling Doug.

The hoser brothers. They are the perfect avatars for modern pop-culture politics.

Move over Kardashians

Now, I know most of you probably think the politico/celebrity freak show is yours alone — Charlie Sheen, Anthony Weiner, Gov. Jesse "The Body" Ventura — American exceptionalism and all that.

But Canadians grow up on American magazines, American news, American movies, and above all, American TV. (We also have the internet.)

Dear Americans, we have internet. We know who the Kardashians are. (Associated Press)

We're the only people on Earth who can pass for Americans. Most of us could vanish into a crowd here.

We know all about the Kardashians, and Honey Boo-Boo, and Snooki. We've had professional wrestling for decades. We've all read about the gun enthusiasts who show up with assault rifles to intimidate meetings of gun-control enthusiasts, or at Obama rallies.

We enjoy reading about your hardline religious conservatives who get caught in public bathrooms trawling for sex, or smoking crystal meth with gigolos. You've had a president who (sort of) got caught trawling for sex in the Oval Office.

Your current president used "a little blow" himself at one time and wrote about it in a book that made him rich. A lot of Canadians read it, and love the guy. Washington, D.C. had a crack-smoking mayor 23 years ago.

So why would it surprise anyone that Canada would eventually produce a Rob Ford?

And why would it surprise anyone that Ford would be resorting to time-tested American political push-backs now that he's cornered?

More tiger's blood

"Socialism is great!" Ford shouted at Toronto's city councillors the other day, as they voted to remove most of his mayoral powers. His brother, meanwhile, is telling everyone with a microphone that it's all a left-wing conspiracy.

Presumably, the Fords are implying that only socialists and lefties object to guzzling liquor at the wheel, bellowing racist slurs, smoking crack with criminals and talking on live TV about performing oral sex.

Making it a left/right issue makes no sense, but could any political counterattack be more American?

Well, yes, in fact, there is another one, and Ford's pulled it out, too. His attackers are all elitists, he told CNN the other night. There are rich elites and there are poor people, and he stands for the poor people.

Except he's rich. And being rich while proclaiming oneself a champion member of the working-class poor is a political tactic invented right here in the U.S.

Rob Ford is in fact our cultural bond, my American friends. He is the living version of the Ambassador Bridge that links our nations. As John Lennon sang, I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.

The obvious next step is a one-man show. Charlie Sheen did it, and sold out, after crack-fuelled rants propelled him to the same blinding fame as Ford has now achieved. (Remember? "I am a warlock! I have tiger's blood! I'm winning!")

Ford would have one little problem, though, if he's contemplating a U.S. tour. He's not an American citizen.

And those left-wing socialists at U.S. Customs take a dim view of non-citizens who've admitted what American law terms "moral turpitude."

U.S. Border agents have often barred Canadians who've admitted smoking pot; they've even refused to admit Canadians with medical marijuana certifications.

Mayor Ford might want to read your Immigration and Nationality Act, specifically Sec. 212. (2)(A)(i):

"Any alien convicted of, or who admits having committed, or who admits committing acts … relating to a controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802)), is inadmissible."

That's legalese for anyone who admits to smoking crack. Which of course Mayor Ford has now admitted doing.

I guess he could always perform by satellite. But he'd better get cracking, so to speak.

Because, my American friends, with all due respect, your attention span is rather limited. A month from now, without a doubt, the freak show will have some new feature act.


Neil Macdonald is a former foreign correspondent and columnist for CBC News who has also worked in newspapers. He speaks English and French fluently, as well as some Arabic.