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How Obama's Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics
Presenting the first three paragraphs of Andrew Sullivan’s epic takedown of President Barack Obama’s critics, on newsstands & online today.
You hear it everywhere. Democrats are disappointed in the president. Independents have soured even more. Republicans have worked themselves up into an apocalyptic fervor. And, yes, this is not exactly unusual.
A president in the last year of his first term will always get attacked mercilessly by his partisan opponents, and also, often, by the feistier members of his base. And when unemployment is at remarkably high levels, and with the national debt setting records, the criticism will—and should be—even fiercer. But this time, with this president, something different has happened. It’s not that I don’t understand the critiques of Barack Obama from the enraged right and the demoralized left. It’s that I don’t even recognize their description of Obama’s first term in any way. The attacks from both the right and the left on the man and his policies aren’t out of bounds. They’re simply—empirically—wrong.
A caveat: I write this as an unabashed supporter of Obama from early 2007 on. I did so not as a liberal, but as a conservative-minded independent appalled by the Bush administration’s record of war, debt, spending, and torture. I did not expect, or want, a messiah. I have one already, thank you very much. And there have been many times when I have disagreed with decisions Obama has made—to drop the Bowles-Simpson debt commission, to ignore the war crimes of the recent past, and to launch a war in Libya without Congress’s sanction, to cite three. But given the enormity of what he inherited, and given what he explicitly promised, it remains simply a fact that Obama has delivered in a way that the unhinged right and purist left have yet to understand or absorb. Their short-term outbursts have missed Obama’s long game—and why his reelection remains, in my view, as essential for this country’s future as his original election in 2008.
On Taking Criticism
“You need more life experience.”
It was that bit of advice that kept me from showing my original works to people for the next several years. I was 19 and enrolled in that horror college experience known as Creative Writing class. I was overwhelmed and not really prepared enough for the class, and trying to balance two jobs. She was the resident harsh critic, and frankly, none of us liked her. She rarely had a good thing to say about anyone’s work, and her stories rubbed us all the wrong way. That didn’t make her a bad person, but in the environment of the class, it was enough.
Sharing your work and getting feedback is an important process to go through as a writer. Everyone has to gauge how much criticism they can take and in what forms, but no matter how you go about it, some of it is always going to be painful. Breathe deeply, and try to remember:
You’re not a bad writer. No matter how harsh the criticism is, none of it means you’re a bad writer. If it flat-out says you’re a bad writer, it’s wrong. All writers can and will improve. You can only get better.
Sometimes criticism is wrong. People view things subjectively, which means they apply their own likes and dislikes to it whether they realize it or not. Someone who gives you criticism may not like the genre or style you’re writing in. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong for writing it!
You don’t have to give a shit about mean criticism. Sometimes people criticize you just to be mean. Fuck those people. Those people are assholes. You don’t have to take any shit, especially if it is really just shit. You deserve better.
Criticism is about what you get out of it, not what they say. The most important thing you get from criticism comes from you, not from them. I’ve had several suggestions from one friend on how to ‘fix’ my work. I haven’t listen to anyone of them, but they did give me different ideas on what to do instead. Take what you want or need from criticism, and leave the rest.
A critic’s ‘job’ is to help you, not hurt you. If they’re hurting you, find a better critic. There’s a difference between harsh criticism you need to better yourself as a writer, and harsh criticism that only makes you feel bad. If that’s all it does, stop listening to it! Take a break! Most critics are not trying to hurt you, but if they do, unintentionally or not, you have to take care of yourself. You can stop listening, or if you know them personally, talk to them about it.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t take criticism. Everyone, from your favorite author to someone writing fanfics, is going to both need and get criticism. It’s important to help strengthen your work and better yourself as a writer. But that’s the thing about criticism; it’s there to help you.
(And for fuck’s sake, don’t tell teenagers they ‘need more life experience’ to be writers. Life experience doesn’t ‘limit’ anyone to anything.)