LOS ANGELES, February 10, 2014 — Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is known as a raging drunk; he recently admitted to smoking crack cocaine. He claimed that his drug use is infrequent, and only happens when he is in a drunken stupor.
The big and burly Ford made headlines when he accidentally knocked a woman down while charging at somebody else, reigniting the joke about how to stop a rhino from charging. When he retires he could reprise the Chris Farley characters on Saturday Night Live.
While Ford was praised by some for making Canada vaguely interesting, his transformation into global laughingstock was a serious matter. Smoking crack is fine if one is Marion Barry. Nobody expects the Mayor of Washington, D.C. to do anything positive anyway. Toronto is a successful city that does not like having its image tarnished.
On the surface, President Obama appears to be a better leader than Mayor Ford. While Obama also enjoyed a healthy dose of recreational pharmaceuticals as a young man, there is no evidence that he currently does drugs. He is married to a woman who does not let him enjoy a cigarette or a hamburger, let alone recreational drugs. By all accounts, Obama is an obedient husband and good father.
So why does Mayor Ford have higher approval ratings? Recent polls show that Ford has 47 percent approval while Obama is at 43 percent, after dipping into the high 30s like New York after a global warming report. One could say that clear (cocaine) lines have been drawn.
Both men talk too much and hold too many news conferences that contain little news, but Ford has one characteristic that Obama lacks.
Ford does the real work of governing, and he does it successfully.
The late House Speaker Tip O’Neill had it right when he said that “all politics is local.” As much as activists desperately want most Americans to obsess over abortion, gay rights and psuedo-environmental nonsense, there are only two issues that always matter.
Americans want more money in their pockets and they want to feel safe at night. They want to be able to feed their families and not have to worry about their children being blown to kingdom come. That is why the Republican Party does very well when it sticks to a message of “cut taxes, kill terrorists.”
Activists in primaries care about social issues. During normal everyday living, most people just want to live without having their lives impeded by financial hardship or actual death.
When the ice storm hit, Ford did a good job of cleaning up Toronto. He got the streets cleared. People were able to get to work and did not have to use up sick or vacation days or lose pay altogether.
Mayor Ford did his job. He got the little things right. Politicians who do that are rewarded. Those who do not are punished.
Everybody knows Chicago is a corrupt city, but the Daley machine survived because the people were willing to tolerate graft in exchange for clean streets.
Vladimir Putin may be a dictator who imprisons people who cross him, but he can keep the streets clean after a snowstorm. As Putin reminded Americans, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg could not. New Gotham Mayor Bill DeBlasio was just as helpless. The most technologically advanced city in the world in the greatest nation in world history could not even properly react to a common weather condition that happens everywhere in the U.S. except maybe Hawaii.
President Obama said in one of his interminable State of the Useless addresses that as Americans, “We do big things.” The problem is that he cannot even do small things right. His insistence in the government’s ability to fundamentally transform America and revamp the entire healthcare system is undermined by his administration’s inability even to build a functioning Obamacare website.
When Obama laughed that “shovel ready jobs were not as shovel ready as we thought,” he admitted the incompetence of his government. The man who had Millennials chanting “Yes, we can” has shown that when it matters, he can’t.
A good analogy to Obama comes from the animated series, “King of the Hill.” Hank Hill laments about his son, “I want to hang out with Bobby, but the problem is the boy is not really good at anything.”
Americans overlooked President Bill Clinton’s sexual predation because the economy was good and the world was at peace in a brief lull between wars. When Howard Stern ran a brief campaign to become Governor of New York in the 1990s, he said that his platform would be to “fix the potholes, kill criminals, and resign.”
Stern’s good friend was Senator Alfonse D’Amato. Nicknamed Senator Pothole, D’Amato was a master at responding to the mundane, everyday work of governing. This is the work Obama cannot stand doing.
Campaigning is sexy and glamorous. Governing is mostly boring, tedious, nuts-and-bolts work. Ford is competent and capable enough to do it and willing to do it. Obama is not.
Polls are a snapshot in time. Ford’s act could wear very thin, especially if he does not sober up and get help. Obama could somehow rebound, although it would defy conventional wisdom about second terms for American presidents, especially presidents allergic to work.
If Obama and DeBlasio want to be remembered as epic failures, all they have to do is spend every waking minute promoting pie-in-the-sky fantasies while ignoring the minutiae of day-to-day practicalities that voters care about.
Fix the potholes. Clean the streets after snowstorms. Crack down on crime. Stop fantasizing about high-speed rail and just make the metaphorical government trains run on time.
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