As I argued below in my critique of Allan Gregg's call for more authenticity in politics, it is a mistake to confuse the low-rent populism of people like Toronto mayor Rob Ford with authenticity. In a column last week for the Ottawa Citizen, my colleague Kate Heartfield makes a similar point on the way to shredding Ottawa's former Mayor, Larry O'Brien.
O'Brien had caused a bit of controversy over a few tweets he wrote during the debate over the Florida primaries, including one that said "“the spics are getting way to much airtime." Citizen reporter David Reevely jumped on this remarkable case of a former mayor tweeting racist remarks, which promoted O'Brien to play the role of the non-conforming rebel, sticking it to the lamestream elites: He tweeted, “Thanks to the Citizens ‘David Reevely’ for raising my profile on Twitter. The OC is just so MAIN STREAM, and so irrelevant.”
What exactly is elitist — or socialist, for that matter — about not calling people “spics” in a public forum? The implication is that using a racial slur, because it’s “politically incorrect,” makes O’Brien a regular guy, someone who tells it like it is. O’Brien told a Citizen reporter a couple of years ago that he likes being a multimillionaire because it “feels secure” and gave him “the freedom to be a mayor,” never mind live in a luxury condo and drive a Porsche. But in the Bizarro World of populist-speak, he’s a regular joe, because he’s openly racist.
But as she laments, this schtick works -- for Sarah Palin, for Rob Ford, for Newt Gingrich. Which serves as a double reminder: That populism is not authenticity, and to the extent to which we conflate the two, authenticity serves the forces of reaction, not progress.