The piece was pulled from the paper’s website following a strong reader reaction, but it struck a chord with those of us who hated Ford. To many of his well-heeled opponents downtown, myself included, it wasn’t so much that Rob Ford acted poorly, but that he acted poor. He was a class imposter, a thin rich man in a poor fat suit. And then came the video evidence that proved Ford to be a tough-on-crime millionaire who smoked crack in gang-run drug dens. How could Toronto ever hope to be a first-class city while its mayor used second-class cocaine?
There seemed to me at the time, as Marche had argued, something symbolic about Rob Ford’s illnesses—his obesity, his drinking and his drug use. They were telling—symptoms of his moral corruption, and evidence of his duplicity. Shortly after Gawker and The Toronto Star reported on the video of the mayor smoking crack, I was at a party in the city’s gentrifying Parkdale neighborhood when a condo-dwelling young professional with a graduate degree began holding forth about Ford’s villainy while waving a rolled-up bill above some solicitous ropes of coke. I toasted him with my evening’s nth gin. And when Frank Ocean’s “Crack Rock” came over the stereo later that night and we screamed along, it didn’t seem to strike any of the partygoers that the joke might very well be on us.
After Ford died, Marche wrote in Esquire that already, “Idiots were asking ‘Why were we all so hard on Rob Ford?’” I am, I’m afraid to report, one of those idiots. Don’t get me wrong: His politics weren’t my politics. I laughed when he busted out his janky patois to some Caribbean guys at a burger joint. I snickered at a 300-pound man hectoring Toronto to “stop the gravy train” of municipal spending. My friends and I shared GIFs of him bumping into things and falling and repeated choice lines from his incriminating videos to each other: “Don’t tell me we’re liars, thieves … birds?” And I howled along with Jon Stewart when he pilloried Ford, especially when Ford bragged about the benefits of dining in on his wife. But the punch line, all too often, was that he was an addict.
His critics on the left, including Stewart, didn’t satirize him—they ridiculed him. My friends and I didn’t just disagree with Rob Ford; we laughed at him. His failings, couched in the language of suffering, illness, or even joie de vivre, might have been humanizing, but in Ford they were the proof of his ideology’s rottenness, and therefore fair game. At the same time, the way that I, my liberal friends, and various left-leaning commentators treated him revealed the duplicity of our liberalism. We progressives were the people who promoted a disease theory of addiction, who evangelized trigger warnings, decried online bullying, and fought back against normative body images, all of which we’d gleefully abandon in the service of slaying our political enemy. Ford was as round as a planet—see, I still got it—and his face was so red it was two vodkas shy of green, but we saw him in two dimensions, and in black and white. The humanists refused to humanize him.
The last time I saw him there was a two-hour wait. The line snaked around the corner at City Hall, and everyone queued in the rain. When the honor guard unloaded his coffin from the hearse, it was wrapped in a plastic tarp that looked like a shower cap. It was the sort of self-protective shield Rob Ford would have forgone in life—I don’t think I ever even saw him with an umbrella—and it was altogether too late anyway.