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.
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.