Razor in her mouth

During an interview on Fresh Air, Jacob Bernstein, the son of Nora Ephron, said when asked about his mother’s sharp criticism, “she had a razor in her mouth.” He was referring to her toughness as an editor, seemingly unafraid to urge writers – even her son – to cut, cut, cut. In the context of the interview with Terry Gross, however, it was clear that Bernstein did not experience Ephron’s comments as condemnation or disapproval as much as analysis or appraisal. Her criticism of his work was the result of her judgement of his work. It was a judgement he apparently wanted.

Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air

Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air

In this political season, there is much in the way of criticism of one candidate by another, rarely wanted, and increasingly devoid of real, meaningful analysis or appraisal. It is difficult for most of us to listen to these chronic attacks of one by the other and not want to run to the nearest exit. This fault-finding takes a toll on the candidates, for sure. But the potshots affect us as well.

What I am enjoying about both Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton is that each has actual proposals to move us forward. To be sure, in the process, they are also criticizing each other’s proposals and each other. Their supporters and, quite likely, their campaign offices are criticizing the other side as well. I would say, however, that Clinton and Sanders seem to have done a fair degree of analysis of the other’s positions on issues.

At the local level, State Senator Chris Larson and County Executive Chris Abele are not a strong parallel to Sanders and Clinton. On the one hand, Abele is knocking Larson, finding fault in his past legislative votes while he himself has done many deals off the record and around the County Board instead of through them. On the other hand, Larson remains somewhat more focused on his plans for improved transportation, mental health services, parks, and government relations. He is giving Abele flak about the growing lack of transparency in county government.

All of this mud-slinging affects us voters.

  • We give up listening at some point.
  • We decide the political process is distasteful.
  • We know we would not want to run for office or serve in government.
  • We join in the harangues.
  • We diminish our capacity to tell the difference between sound analysis and broadly held opinion.
  • We learn passivity in the face of attack.
  • We doubt the integrity of incumbents and those seeking to unseat them.
  • We cease to govern.

As I write this week about criticism, politics may sneak in again from time to time.

2 thoughts on “Razor in her mouth

  1. What works, we hate. At least that’s what “they” tell us. “They” resort to mudslinging and personal attacks, because it’s what sways voters, “they” say. So as much as “we the people” hate it, it works. But as you point out, what does it work? It may result in one candidate or another winning an election. But does it work for the good of the country? Mudslinging keeps people from thinking positively about politics, and keeps them thinking negatively about politicians. And instead of sitting down across the aisle, politicians aim across the aisle. As do the people. I can’t speak for my generation; I can only speak for me. But while I vote and read and am interested in current events – I am ever less hopeful for the future of our country.


  2. The point you make about winning elections instead of moving our country and our people is key to this, I think. I have talked to a couple of elected officials and some former ones, too, about this. One even thanked me very sincerely for the reminder about what we seek to do besides the competitive race to win. Oh, I know, the common answer is “But, if we don’t win, we can’t get things done.” My response: “If you only seek a win, we have already lost.”

    Liked by 1 person

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