If there’s one thing that the recent headlines about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford — and all the various Facebook and Twitter comments, etc. — have shown, it is that most of us are as ungracious and thoughtless as those we might consider to be our political enemies.
Now, I’m not about to step up to defend the various policies and political orientations of this particular politician. From my distance, I really only see the caricatures and the complaints from people I trust to believe in the same things I do. But those policies and political orientations are not the focus of the current attacks, either direct or indirect. Instead, we take clever swipes at his weight (I may be particularly sensitive on that issue myself), or at the possibility that he might have unsavoury friends or that he might use illegal drugs.
The weight thing. Isn’t it obvious by now that this plan of attack is just childish and hurtful, and flies in the face of all of our insistence that what matters is not appearance, but substance? If I hear a woman who would rightfully be indignant for being judged on her appearance rather than her abilities mock the man’s portliness, it just disgusts me.
And how about the alleged drug use? Is this something that we whisper and titter about when it concerns people for whom we are advocating harm reduction services? Not if we’re worth our salt. Why would the Mayor get a lesser treatment on this count? I have to say that when the first allegations emerged many months ago, the reaction of some activists in Toronto was precisely what it ought to have been: calling out the Mayor and his political allies on their opposition to those harm reduction interventions I mentioned. That policy is wrong, but it is not more wrong if the mayor is using drugs. It remains wrong if he is or if he isn’t.
Lest we think that I am only wrapped up in this week’s news, let me offer another example from the US. Marcus Bachman, husband of one-time Republican Presidential hopeful Michele Bachman, is regularly pilloried in the US by those who consider themselves progressive and even “pro-gay”. Why? Is it because he runs a practice that claims to convert homosexuals into heterosexuals? Rarely. The attacks are usually focused on the perception that he is effeminate — one particular gay blogger just calls him Ladybird. When those things happen to someone with fewer resources, or a teen, we decry it as homophobic bullying. But it becomes okay when the target is someone with whose politics we disagree? I don’t think so.
New Year’s Eve is far away, but I would like to suggest a resolution for us all: think about how we criticize our perceived enemies and try to make sure that we are not disavowing our own rallying cries when we do it. Surely there are less lazy ways to call them out on the basis of the things that merit criticism.