The term “dog whistle politics” refers to politicians making a public statement, which also has a deliberate unspoken message for a targeted group of supporters. Like a real dog whistle, what they’re actually saying is something only meant for certain ears. It is a despicable tactic the Ford brothers have employed for quite some time. The Fords’ little lap dogs responded and came when called to last night’s debate. The problem is some of them are getting off the leash.
Last night’s debate featured a pack of Ford supporters who could be charitably described as enthusiastic, but more accurately as disruptive. They booed and heckled both Tory and Chow when they spoke, and hollered for every lie Doug told. I’m not sure if Doug actually had a bell on stage with him or not, but Pavlov would have been proud.
One of them was removed by police, while long time Ford family friend and former staffer David Price was warned with the same. Perhaps we should be thankful the debate wasn’t held at a GO station. It is bad enough when the audience for a municipal debate is most compared to a professional wrestling crowd. As with most things involving a Ford, it got worse.
A man who later proudly identified himself as a Ford supporter, yelled at Olivia Chow “Go home, Olivia. Back to China!”. He followed up with the equally offensive “She’s Chinese! She’s not Canadian!”
Disgusting as such a brazen, unapologetic display of racism is, it is also entirely predictable. The Fords have tacitly endorsed this kind of bigotry before, and if there’s one things dogs like to do it is please their masters.
When Rob talked about controlling his football team, how they would all be in gangs but for him, the racist overtones were hard to miss. Not only by those offended by such an attitude, but also by those whose own racism was being validated. Ford made it sound like he is the only thing between his supporters and the threat they imagine young black men to be.
In a recent AMA candidate for council and Rob Ford opponent Andray Domise deciphered the not so secret code of Ford’s racism better than I could hope to. Reading his take it becomes clear how Ford is actively trying to make people feel their racist ideas have merit. So of course they’re going to start acting on them. He offers them a treat, and they beg for more
Not one to confine their bigotry to racism, the Fords have dog whistles in homophobic tones as well. Ford refuses to attend Pride for “family reasons”, and says outrageously ignorant things about people with AIDS. Not to be out done, Doug holds out the spectre of gay orgies should showers be installed as part of a bike facility.
Some may laugh off such hyperbole thinking no reasonable person believes them. That’s because they aren’t talking to reasonable people. Rest assured, the people they are talking to hear the message loud and clear. “The Fords don’t like gay people anymore than you do.”
Which is why when Ford Fest protests end in assaults or just yesterday, openly gay Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam gets hate mail like this from Ford Nation, we are rightfully horrified. That doesn’t mean we should be shocked.
It would be easy to dismiss the racist, and homophobic attitudes the Fords have displayed. Many see them as ignorant, backwards thinking, reprobates with money, and they are. The problem is they have as much media attention as they do vitriol.
People across Toronto hear them, and feel their own prejudices are somehow now justified. The Fords don’t just rile up people’s anger for their cause. They stoke the bigoted flames smoldering beneath that anger.
The more the Fords blow their whistles, the more aggressive their dogs seem to get. We will be lucky if no one gets bit.