Sunday, June 9, 2013

If Only The King Knew

In the early days of the French revolution there was a saying among the common people: “If only the king knew.”

Although most of them would never see him, the common people of France loved their king, and instead placed the blame for their country’s problems at the feet of the local nobility and the king's advisors.

It was even said in the darkest days of Soviet Russia when the purges and pogroms were in full swing. "If only Papa Stalin knew," said the peasants and workers under the oppressive boot of local Commissars. Of course Stalin knew - the Commissars were carrying out his orders - but he managed to maintain the fiction that he was a good man who cared about the common people even as they died in their millions.

The theme of evil advisors to a good king kept in the dark as to real problems goes back to ancient times and fairy tales. It also goes forward to Harper and his current situation with overspending Senators, "rogue" Chiefs of Staff, personal $90,000 bailout cheques and Harper's mantra that "he did not know about it, and if he did, he would never have approved it."

It hardly requires pointing out how implausible is Harper's claim that he was in the dark and out of the loop. Harper is a famous micro-manager, concerned about the smallest details in his administration. He knows that his carefully crafted image as a moderate and competent statesman is brittle and is scrupulous about not allowing anyone to see behind the fragile mask.  

In the time of Louis XVI it was possible to insulate the king from unpleasant truths. Louis XVI didn't start his day with cable news, clipping services and a roundup of media reports. He didn't pay people to monitor social media. Frankly, even if they existed, he wouldn't have cared, since the common people had no vote and only the nobles mattered. There were no lawsuits to be brought against the government or scandals that could flash from one end of the kingdom to the other in a matter of minutes.

Harper doesn't live in that long gone world.

The Harper Government spends more on advertising, polling, communications and media monitoring than any previous Canadian government. It even spends money on monitoring its own backbench MPs to make sure they are staying on message. Harper, and his government, knows that he depends on popular opinion and managing his message, even if that message has to go through several iterations before they find one that works.

Harper is careful to allow all good news and staged photo ops to be about him while pushing ministers or disposable junior MPs into the spotlight to take blame or deliver bad news. The parroting of idiotic talking points - even those already proved to be patently false - are left to others who don't mind looking like fools or liars in the Commons in exchange for the many perqs and fruits of loyalty.

The king must be forever protected from any stain or tarnish.

The combination of the tight control of the people and message by Harper makes it inconceivable that he did not know what was happening in his own Prime Minister's Office when his own Chief of Staff Nigel Wright cut a cheque to Senator Mike Duffy for $90,000 to secretly fund his Senate expense problem.

Harper's own account is:

"That's what [PMO Chief of Staff Nigel Wright] decided to do and he decided not to tell me until the 15th of May, after speculation about the source of funds appeared in the media. As soon as I learned that on the 15th of May, I made that information public. Had I known before the 15th of May, I would have made the information known earlier, and had I known about it before it happened, I would have said not to do it."

The king did not know. The king - with what some call a paranoid and obsessive control over information and image - did not know that his trusted advisor was about to make the major political firestorm of Duffy's Senate expense scandal ten times worse by bailing him out.

It was all the evil advisor's fault.

We are to ignore Harper's micro-management. 

We are to ignore that Harper's advisor was chosen because he knew what was expected in the highest non-elected position in government where he worked daily and intimately with Harper on every sensitive issue of the day for two years. 

We are to ignore that the Duffy scandal was hurting the Conservative brand and threatened to spill over into Harper's own credibility.

We are to ignore that the Senate expense scandal must have been near the top of Harper's a daily briefing by his Chief of Staff at the PMO.

“If only the king knew."

That could have been true in 1789 with that particular king.

Not in 2013 with this one.