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Monday, September 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 48.0° F  Fair
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Citizen Dave: Rob Ford and Robert La Follette
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Rob and Bob

I spend some time in Canada, and most of the liberal Canadians I hang out with (yes, there are conservative Canadians but they'd be liberals in the U.S. -- never mind, it's complicated) are embarrassed by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his exploits.

For those not tuned into Canada's most colourful (note the "u") politician, Rob Ford was elected mayor of Toronto with the support of suburban Toronto voters on the theme of "ending the gravy train," by which he literally meant (to some extent) a train. He promised to rip out Toronto’s historic and very successful streetcar system. He was blocked in that.

Ford also doesn't like bicycles.

Ford recently admitted that he had been caught on video using crack cocaine, after vehemently denying the charges for months. He did offer the helpful explanation that he was very drunk at the time, in case you'd want to take that into account as a mitigating factor. He's also been caught on video threatening murder.

As I've written before, Rob Ford represents a cautionary tale about regionalism gone wild. Because the city of Toronto was forced by the provincial government to amalgamate with its suburbs, Mayor Ford was made possible. He ran on resentment of suburbanites toward the central city, and because suburban voters outnumber city residents, what Toronto now has is a mayor who hates Toronto.

So you might wonder why I love this guy. It's a payback. My Canadian friends are exactly what you'd expect. Good-natured, polite. They love hockey. They're a little smug about their health care, but who can blame them for that?

But as an American who has had to endure Sarah "Can Actually See Russia" Palin and Rick "I Can Remember Two of the Three Agencies I'd Eliminate" Perry and Anthony "The Sexter" Wiener and Mark "Appalachian Trail" Sanford and the government shutdown and... well, I could go on and on, it's nice to have something to throw back in my Canadian friends' faces. "Yeah, well, Rob Ford!" I say, and they just crumble. They got nothing.

Much to my delight things took a turn for the even more bizarre yesterday when Ford spent five hours in City Hall autographing (get this) Rob Ford bobblehead dolls. That's right, the hefty mayor's crew cut likeness is now on a bobblehead that could be had for $20 (Canadian). A thousand of them were gone in half a day and the proceeds went to charity. Now some of them have showed up on eBay with an asking price as high as $800.

Which leads me to, well of course, another Rob: Robert La Follette. I was very happy a couple of weeks ago when the new editor of the venerable The Progressive magazine and my fellow Isthmus contributor, Ruth Conniff, said that she thought the left needed to lighten up a little and that she intended to incorporate more (well, some) humor into the magazine.

Ruth is so right (which is an odd thing to say about a lefty). Fighting Bob would definitely not have had a bobblehead if they had bobbleheads a century ago. There is no surviving record of Robert (never Rob) La Follette making a joke. He was a deeply self-righteous and self-obsessed man whose DNA unfortunately runs through way too much of the left. Ruth could help the cause immensely if she would not only bring a sense of humor to The Progressive, but also if she could help them forget Fighting Bob altogether. Constant references to him scream dusty irrelevance to anyone younger than the age of dead next week.

Because here’s the thing about Rob Ford. He smoked crack. He lied about it. And one thousand people lined up at six in the morning to get him to sign a bobblehead doll. For sure, some of them did it for the sense of irony or to make a tidy profit by reselling the item. But hundreds of Ford supporters showed up to show their support. He's a horrible mayor and a national embarrassment, but he doesn't go around trying to be Mother Teresa, and that almost makes up for it.

Rob Ford may be a buffoon, but he's a buffoon who doesn't take himself too seriously. What the left needs, if it's ever going to be popular again, are pols with the principals of Fighting Bob but with a little bit of the mischievous élan of Rob Ford.

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