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David Horsey | Los Angeles Times

The new Canada is Ford tough

– Like the aurora borealis on crack, the Rob Ford flameout has streaked across the northern skies for days, weeks, even months longer than any sensible political scandal ought to. Long after it was clear that this whole thing needed to be shut down, the mayor of Toronto has continued to take up air and space in world media coverage.

Why are we still reading about this guy?

The simple answer is that Canadians are too nice to oust even a loony leader; the more complicated one is that Toronto doesn’t actually have a mechanism to fully remove a loony leader from public office since it doesn’t happen much.

But an alternate explanation presented itself to me the other day when someone asked whether I wasn’t desperately embarrassed to be a Canadian. And plumbing the arctic depths of my Canadian soul, I discovered the truth: I have never been prouder to be a Canadian in my whole entire life.

I think that after a lifetime of being typecast as the tall guy in the corner in the ribbed turtleneck and ugly Kodiak boots, Canadians may be secretly loving this chance to suggest to the world that deep inside each and every one of us lurks a 300-pound loon perfectly capable of flattening a city council member in his attempt to jump a heckler in the middle of a council meeting. For the first time since the War of 1812, Canada is looking just a teensy bit iddy, and let me tell you, brother – we kind of love it.

For example: Canada – which created “Saturday Night Live” in the person of gifted Canadian Lorne Michaels and then built “Saturday Night Live” through the gifted Canadian-ness of Dan Aykroyd, Martin Short, Mike Myers, Phil Hartman, Norm Macdonald and others – finally, finally got some serious American respect when the show opened with a breathless sketch about the full-frontal sideshow of Rob Ford. We’re not just in the big show anymore. It’s finally about us!

Until Rob Ford made his crazy-bird appearance on the international media scene, Canada tended to produce and reproduce variations on a single type. Let’s just shorthand it the “Dorky Observer.” Leonard Cohen is a Dorky Observer; so is Malcolm Gladwell. William Shatner, Diana Krall, David Cronenberg, Samantha Bee, John Kenneth Galbraith, Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Donald Sutherland, Alanis Morissette, Marshall McLuhan? All Dorky Observers. David Suzuki is the Über Dorky Observer, as is Mike Myers. Alex Trebek has elevated Dorky Observation to an art form. But Canada produces startlingly few id-based life forms.

Unlike the rest of us Canadians, who are reputed to live principally in our brains, with only brief forays out for some Timbits and hockey, Rob Ford lives completely in his tremendous body with only brief fly-overs to check in on his addled brain. And so Rob Ford was on the “Today” show, being celebrated for his unbridled American-style bonkers-ness. He is being feted by fun-loving people everywhere for his truthiness (“I didn’t lie. I don’t smoke crack, I haven’t smoked crack in over a year.”), for his refreshing honesty (“But show me the video ... because I want to see it. I can’t even barely remember it. I was very, very inebriated.”), and for threatening his colleagues with retribution (“Mark my words, my friends, this is going to be outright war in the next election.”). He is both humble (“I don’t look at myself as the mayor; I look at myself as just a normal, regular person.”) and also freakishly nuts (“Yes, one day I do want to run for prime minister.”). He is unlike every other Canadian who gets to go on the “Today” show, which must be achieved the usual way: i.e., through exceptional talent.

Rob Ford’s 15 minutes of fame has lasted for months. It may, nevertheless, be coming to an end. His official powers have been diminished. His TV show has been canceled. But for these sweet months Rob Ford has truly been Toronto’s golem: a ferocious, man-made creature, repository of the group’s worst revenge fantasies, crafted to protect the community from its bloodthirsty enemies. He gets to run around expressing all the hidden violence and madness of the group, so that everyone else can walk around behaving cordially.

Here, for the first time, is a Canadian who calls out to the world, whether he’s on crack or off it: “Hey! I’ll cut you, man.” And, speaking as the dorkiest of Dorky Observers, deep in hearts, that feels kind of excellent.

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate.

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