(Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)On Monday, the Toronto City Council debated whether to strip Mayor Rob Ford of more of his powers, cementing his position as North America’s most embarrassing mayor but not, most likely, bringing his scandal-ridden political woes to an end. The revelations of his misconduct over the last year, which include smoking crack cocaine, drunken tirades, and allegations of sexual harassment, are shocking, but they should not be surprising — least of all to the people of Toronto. The evidence that Ford was not fit for the office he currently inhabits was there all along, and not just in his early public-drunkenness arrests. It has been obvious since the moment Ford chose eccentric sports commentator Don Cherry to place the city’s gaudy chain of office around his neck. It is visible in what he chooses to wear in office that he doesn’t respect it. (Screenshot) (Screenshot)
From the start, there have been countless signs that Ford was more comfortable on the football field (where he coached students until being let go by the school board earlier this year) than the conservative world of politics. There is his predilection for Toronto team jerseys and sports attire; his willingness to be photographed in a panama hat. But most notable are his ties, which run the spectrum from really ugly to outrageously ugly. There are the horrible pattern prints, like the NFL logo he wore to a press conference confessing he’d smoked crack. Or the football pattern he donned while apologizing for a profanity-laced response to allegations he’d made sexual remarks to a female colleague. Or the smiley-face pattern he wore to a City Council meeting in the midst of the scandal. Then there are the more routine bad ties: thick knotted silk with garish patterns that evoke a mid-1980s car dealer, one who most likely uses cocaine.
Politicians are not expected to be paragons of fashion. Most of them dress boringly, if not badly. But it is undeniable that attire can be a carefully managed aspect of a politician’s arsenal — that projects intentional and sometimes unintentional messages. Hillary Rodham Clinton reclaimed her once-pilloried pantsuits as a hallmark of her tireless professionalism. Dick Cheney’s choice of a parka at a 2005 commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz sent messages about the vice president’s stance abroad he couldn’t have wanted. Ford’s decision to continue wearing ridiculous clothing during the biggest scandal of his political career has added an extra dose of surrealism to the already strange saga. During the press conference with the football print tie, his wife stood, dejected-looking, by his side.
It’s not difficult to imagine that she is able to ask him the questions we all want answers to. Including the following: If you were going to try to get away, undetected, with behaving like such a clown in office, why not try a little harder not to dress like one?
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Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
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