Stephen Harper says he knew nothing about Nigel's Wright's cheque to Mike Duffy. That's probably true. But Harper's plea of ignorance does not preclude his giving Wright instructions to make Duffy an offer he couldn't refuse.
Harper learned long ago that, like any good don, he had to insulate himself from his operatives. It's all part of what Leo Strauss called "the noble lie." Don Lenihan writes that the concept is diametrically opposed to the populism which was the bedrock of the old Reform Party:
While the new party appropriated the language of accountability from the old Reform Party, it did not embrace the values and culture on which it was based. The reasons take us back to Stephen Harper’s break with Reform in 1997. The rupture was caused by tensions between Preston Manning’s populism and Harper’s commitment to conservative principles.
Harper has always been a Straussian:
In Strauss’ view, successful democracies are led by an elite group which can make the right decisions for the public, even though these will often conflict with what the public would expect or accept. Enlightened leaders bridge this gap by telling the public a story it can accept — what Strauss called a “noble lie.”
The unavoidable conclusion from the last few weeks is that the culture in the PMO is decidedly Straussian rather than Reformist, elitist rather than populist. Indeed, the Conservatives appear to have their own well-crafted version of the noble lie. It rests on the claim they remain true to their Reform roots, especially the commitments to transparency and accountability.
In reality, the communications machine crafts the government’s messages, and then foot soldiers like [Michelle] Rempel are called on to deliver it. Under Harper, this has become an elaborate system of governance. The party uses sophisticated data systems and research to tailor its messages to the public’s mood. Voters are told what the government wants them to hear and the gap between what is said inside and outside the PMO is protected by a wall of secrecy.
And now word has gone out that omerta will be strictly enforced. We can only hope that there are members of the Conservative Party willing to stand up to The Don.