LONDON, ONTARIO – Ex-980 talk radio host and London Yodeller columnist, Andrew Lawton, is reaping a perfect whirlwind of hysterical abuse since tossing his trademark ten gallon hat into the ring as the Progressive Conservative candidate for London West in next month’s provincial election.
Hatred of the Wynne and McGuinty Liberals is so widespread and so pronounced right now as they try to hang on and extend their 15-year reign at the top of the greasy pole that we could well see a PC sweep that will carry Lawton into the office he seeks. But even if he should get elected, it’s all but guaranteed that there will be no post-election honeymoon for Lawton.
The reasons for this are at least threefold: Throughout the West the ideological chasm between conservatives and liberals (note the lack of capitals) has become so emphatically deep that we’ve lost that old graciousness that used to kick in on the morning after an election when the party or parties that failed to win (and their supporters) would nonetheless accept that result as valid and, vowing to put forth their best arguments when the next election rolled around in three or four years’ time, would step back a little from the fray and let the elected power get on with the day to day business of governing. Though I will not get into the full argument here, and granting that neither side has a spotless record in this regard, I would only point to the non-stop pooh-flinging at the Trump presidency, the Harper prime minister-ship and those Britons who voted to leave the European Union as evidence that lefties tend to be much sourer losers than those on the right.
Another factor undermining the prospect of sanguinity for Lawton should he win is the world class incompetence of the organizers and managers of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. Sure, the palace coup earlier this year that chucked out the uninspiring Patrick Brown as leader was a major disruption that occasioned a lot of frantic tinkering and readjustment. But this June’s election has been marked on the calendar for four years and there is no excuse for a party that wants to convince voters that they are responsive to the concerns of the electorate and not their own backroom, to be slotting in candidates like Lawton who haven’t contested and won their nomination in their own ridings first.
New PC leader Doug Ford is always banging his gums about getting politics out of the hands of the elite and letting Ontario taxpayers have their say. Well, dumping Tanya Granic Allen, an astute and straight-talking critic of the bloated and stilted apparatus of Ontario public education (with its rancid new sex-ed curriculum that was largely formulated by a convicted child pornographer) was his first big mistake.
And parachuting in his own preferred candidate for London West (a race Lawton may well have won if he’d had to contest it) sends an absolutely contrary and profoundly dispiriting message to the grassroots of the party: “I don’t care who you want or whether or not Joe Blow over there has been carefully planning his nomination run for the last couple of years. I started leading the party two months ago and like it or lump it, this other Johnny Come Lately over here is the guy I’m ordaining as your preferred candidate. So how do you like them apples?” Not very much, thanks.
Then there’s the troubling new reality that independence of thought has joined having a sense of humour as a no-go zone at this degraded moment in our never more censorious and yet never more shameless political culture. Andrew Lawton has been a uniquely provocative and polarizing figure for years. It is his stock in trade. It is how he has made his living. I can empathize. In my forty years of journalistic hackery – a lot of it the positing of contrarian opinions of some bite – I have occasionally been approached by lower level operatives of conservative-leaning parties to see if I’d consider putting myself forward as a candidate and after three seconds’ thoughtful reflection, deduced that would be a huge mistake for both me and the party in question.
Philosophically, temperamentally, though there are some areas of overlap, Andrew Lawton and I are hardly twins. But I find it hard to imagine that anyone who has so obviously enjoyed making his way through this vale of tears by offering up their own original and sometimes mocking commentary on the passing scene (and in the process pissing off at least as many people as he pleases) could ever be happy having to take all of their cues from a political party’s oh-so carefully calculated songbook. Gasping for air, choking on bland, committee-approved, pc (again, note the lack of capitals) truisms and bromides, sooner or later a sliver or two of unmediated insight or a disruptive joke is going to come bursting through and stink out the joint real good.
The vast preponderance of my own commentary has been committed to print which comes with its own built-in safeguards against particularly wild acts of impulsivity. The recommendation to “sleep on it,” to run something by your unconscious and allow yourself a little pre-publication time for reflection and second thoughts is a very good thing in our line of work. If you don’t decide to walk something back a little, then perhaps you reinforce it with a little more underpinning so that it can’t be so readily written off as heedless or glib.
Lawton, being mostly an animal of live radio and social media, has not enjoyed these protections. And the barrage of flak he’s now catching for “recklessness” (two front page stories in the Free Press last week and a parcel of letters to the editor, mostly condemning him as an unhinged and “repellent” hothead) can mostly be traced back to tweets and Facebook posts which Southwestern Ontario’s major English-language daily has been playing up as if they were snippets of secret recordings smuggled out of a Ku Klux Klan conclave.
For instance: “In 2015, Lawton responded to a poll that found homophobia was a concern for London’s gay community, writing on Facebook, “Number of sexual orientation-related hate crimes in Canada per year: 185. Number of HIV/AIDS infections from men who have sex with men in Canada per year: 1,450. Who is the real enemy?” And pointing out that nine times more harm is inflicted on gay men by their own sexual activity than by the actions of violent bigots is a no-no because . . . why?
Or: “A screen grab of an apparent Lawton tweet from October 2011: 'An immigrant, a Muslim and a communist walk into a bar. The bartender says ‘Hello Mr. President’.” Is the Free Press unaware that there were a number of wild conspiracy theories circulating about Barack Obama and here Lawton has ingeniously folded three of them into one joke? Or is the problem that we’re only supposed to crack jokes about Republican presidents?
Or: “Accused of mocking the deaf on his show in 2015 [a vague charge I’d like to see substantiated], he tweeted, ‘I don’t think anyone impacted heard the segment’.” Hmm. It hardly seems to put him in the Hitlerian league of hatefulness. But then I once commented when my wife and I found an artificial leg on the beach at Port Stanley and she wondered if its owner would be looking for it: “Perhaps he’ll come by on foot.” And while we’re on the subject, who else remembers when Lucien Bouchard lost a leg to flesh-eating disease and the Free Press actually printed in a sub-headline that it was still unclear “who will fill his shoes”? But then, they apparently weren’t trying to be funny. They were just being dopes, and they don’t regard that as a crime against humanity.
And the one that I find really underwhelming is this one: “A screen grab from an apparent Lawton tweet in November 2011: ‘I left the Anglican church when they made the decision to allow gay marriage’.” And that is scandalous because it’s now against the law to believe that marriage is a holy sacrament reserved for one man and one woman? Gosh, somebody better tell the Catholics, the Orthodox, the Evangelicals, the Amish, the Baptists, the Mormons and the Muslims.
I’m sorry to see that Lawton is now disowning his past indiscretions of speech in a way that sounds more than a little craven. The censorious Kathleen Wynnes and Andrea Horwaths of our world liken straight talk and a refusal to bow down before phony pieties to the bully-boy tactics of that dreadful Donald Trump down south. Certainly there’s much about Trump that makes me cringe too but among his finer qualities is one that I wish more conservative politicians would pick up on and that is the way in which he has embraced the supernatural power of not caring what hyped-up charges your foes place at your feet.
“Throughout my career, I’ve been very open about my struggles with mental illness,” Lawton penned in a press release which he has also posted on his Facebook page. “While most of that discussion has centred on my 2010 suicide attempt, in actuality, it was a battle that spanned from 2005 to 2013. While that period of my life had many successes, I was also the architect of many failings. Simply put, I was reckless in almost all areas of my life: financially, socially, sexually and vocationally. There are significant chunks of this period that I do not remember. While that used to distress me, I’ve come to see it as a positive – not remembering damaging details has helped me move on with my life to be the person I am today, not who I was back then.”
So then . . . ‘I wasn’t in my right mind and I’ve forgotten all kinds of stuff that I did back then and haven’t really dealt with it in any meaningful way, but you should still take a chance and vote for me because it’ll probably work out all right.’ . . . Does this sound like a winning political pitch to you?
I could be wrong. Maybe it’ll work like a charm. And frankly, I hope it does because I’ve always liked the cut of this chap’s jib. And if he does get in, I for one will be disappointed if his earnestly professed makeover precludes the occasional re-emergence of a challenging insight or an audacious joke which are for me the hallmarks of Andrew Lawton at his best.