Back to the missile gap: In our view, Candidate Clinton responded strangely to some questions from Chris Wallace on this weekend's Fox News Sunday.
Given two bites at the apple, Clinton seemed to say, then to suggest, that Director James B. Comey ("Comey the God") didn't say that she emailed classified material.
Plainly, Comey did say that she did that. What explains Clinton's performance?
We can't answer that question, of course. But our thoughts have drifted back to 1960 and the famous alleged "missile gap."
Here's the way the story is frequently told:
Candidate Kennedy kept complaining about a missile gap with the Soviets. He then received a security briefing, in which he was told that no missile gap existed.
People, so what? Kennedy kept criticizing Eisenhower and Nixon over the alleged missile gap. For security reasons, Eisenhower and Nixon couldn't say that the handsome hopeful was perhaps being less than obsessively honest.
Did that actually happen? We don't know. The world's leading authority tells part of the story as shown below, in rather dainty fashion:
Eisenhower refused to publicly refute the claims, fearing that public disclosure of this evidence would jeopardize the secret U-2 flights. Consequently, Eisenhower was frustrated by what he conclusively knew to be Kennedy's erroneous claims that the United States was behind the Soviet Union in number of missiles. In an attempt to defuse the situation, Eisenhower arranged for Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson to be appraised of the information, first with a meeting by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then Strategic Air Command, and finally with the Director of the CIA, Allen Dulles, in July 1960. In spite of these meetings, Kennedy continued to use the same rhetoric, which modern historians have debated as likely being so useful to the campaign that he was willing to ignore the truth.Last December, PBS presented the famous old story a similar way. You can just click here.
Is that version accurate? We can't tell you that. We offer it only as a possible template for Clinton's odd response to Wallace.
What follows is speculation. Because our nation's public discourse no longer involves real discussion, you'll see no real journalistic attempt to nail down the facts of this case.
Here's our speculation:
Plainly, Comey told the House that Clinton did send and receive emails which contained classified material. On Sunday, Wallace played videotape in which Comey made this unambiguous claim.
Here's the problem:
According to Fred Kaplan, the classified material was classified and secret in form only. According to Kaplan, the material dealt with U.S. drone strikes which are known to everyone in the world and are widely described in the press.
Formally, the strikes are still treated as secret so the governments of Pakistan and Yemen can maintain the pretense that they aren't occurring. But everyone knows that the strikes are occurring. No actual "secrecy" is involved. The classification is done for formal purposes only.
Roughly speaking, that's what Kaplan said in his report at Slate. We don't know how accurate that account is, and because it doesn't involve who you'd drink a mimosa with or what the candidates' campaign songs mean, there will never be any further discussion in the "national press."
As Dana Milbank would note, that would be much too boring!
Is Kaplan right? We can't tell you that. But if he is, this is the problem:
If Kaplan is right, Clinton and her associates actually weren't putting secret material at risk. They were discussing material known to everyone in the whole wide world.
That said, for reasons of diplomacy, Clinton might not be free to say that. This would cast her in the Nixon role. She would be unable to correct false or misleading statements which people continue to thunder about because they're "so useful within an ongoing campaign that others are willing to ignore the truth."
Is something like this true? We have no way of knowing. Nor will we ever find out! Discussions of important topics no longer occur in our culture.
If something like this is true, it might help explain Clinton's peculiar responses to Wallace's questions, which were perfectly reasonable. That said, her responses did appear to be strange—strange and ineffectual.
What's the truth about those 110 emails? None of us will ever find out! Real discussion has ceased to exist in our orange-shoed Trumpian culture.
In the modern journalistic context, Yale grads fill the pages of the Post with trips to the Clintons' underwear drawer, followed by post-Foucaultian ruminations about post-pop campaign songs. Meanwhile, millionaire liberals on corporate cable entertain us with videotapes of blunders by Nixon and Agnew.
They grin weirdly at us as they do. Their orange-shoed clowning is designed to make us liberals feel good.
Can we talk? Sometimes a weird response to an obvious question is just a weird response. Sometimes, though, a weird response may involve a large and growing American "press corps gap."