Does Mean Politicking Work?

Photo Courtesy of Marc Aubin

Photo Courtesy of Marc Aubin

How Toronto’s Mayor Ford uses the strategy of personal ignominy for political gain.

The definition of ignominy is a situation or event that causes you great shame or embarrassment. Within a personal context, ignominy can represent deep personal humiliation and disgrace. For most of us, surviving an event of this nature can leave us shaken, distraught and socially adrift. We desperately try to understand what just happened, and how do we get back on track.

Public ignominy, or embarrassment as it is more commonly known, is certainly nothing new to politicians and let’s not forget they are human after all. Equally, as good and just people, we would not wish such personal condition on anyone – even our ‘good’ Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford.

For any normal politician, being accused of illicit drug use, displays of alcoholic discourse, personal threats, sexist innuendo, etc.; public consternation can be immediate and absolute.

Queue the crisis management team and get those apologies crafted.

Then again, Mayor Ford is not a normal politician.

Toronto’s crowned prince of ‘questionable’ behaviour has reworked public humiliation into a deft and seemingly hostile political advantage. Incident after incident of sordid display were spun into political flax ready and willing to clothe his so-called enemies. Especially the media.

This went on for months and months until the day finally came – rehab.

Yes, Mayor Ford received the professional help all of us wanted for him, but has it changed anything? Has his callous political vestment been cast off for a modest toga?

Don’t be ripping up the gift receipt quite yet.

News clips show a return of a far more humble individual where contrition is delivered when needed, but ever so briefly. Being nice continues to be left only to his constituents and ‘friends.’ Mr. Ford’s selection of public intercourse continues to be biased as he shuns certain populist groups unaligned to his platform and ‘good old boy’ image. Although considerably muted than before, he allows his brother Doug, to fill his verbal vacuum with the usual spit and venom. And yet to everyone’s surprise his popularity continues to show moderate growth.

How can this happen? Where is the ethical standard in politicking? Why is mean politicking working?

Siri Agrell of Pilot PMR recently wrote in Huffington Post’s ‘Have You Tried the Rob Ford Guide to Crisis Communications Yet?’ ‘Most politicians respect the quaint notion that they shouldn’t slander each other, or members of the general public. But the Fords use slander to their political advantage.’

She coins this as ‘strategic slander.’ Makes sense; for all those dubious politicians fuelling their political gain with vitriol and hostility.

Heinz-Jürgen Voss at Conjuncture Magazine pens this in a more direct manner by saying, ‘For some years now, I have recognized that conservative and radical right-wing writers are completely loosing their inhibitions and attacking differently minded people verbally in an extraordinarily violent manner.’

Mr. Voss continues to write, ‘… some willing commentators who then debate physical attacks as a strategy, to actual physical violence is just a short step – it is just a question of time.’

Is mean politicking a conservative tactic? And can it lead to actual violence?

Many would argue conservatives generally espouse the use of a ‘verbal strategy’ to conjure gallop points. These strategies are most certainly implemented in a ruthless and cruel manner, but does it sway political allegiance?

A reader of the Tennessean writes, ‘…and it is particularly apparent in the tea party ads — that politics is not about compromise, but being mean and vindictive.’

So where do we stand with Rob Ford and his culture of ‘strategic slander’ and verbal bullying? Is it accepted now within the realm of debate and politics to use such ungenerous and contemptible public (strategies) behaviours?

More questions than answers as this brand of politicking gains prominence. The only absolute being a polarized perspective from academics and journalists alike.

Back at Conjuncture, Mr. Voss summarizes his thoughts by saying,

 ‘…we should work on concepts to develop open and positive conflict culture.’

As public affairs practitioners, this would be our job to develop a methodology and resulting plan for our advocates and affiliations to use. This way we make sure the ethics and acceptable guidelines are in place.

Or, we stand back and plug our ears as Ms. Agrell describes, ‘… it has unleashed a new style of communications that turns up the volume on the biggest, most braindead megaphone around.’

Global TV Segment:

John K. Bromley