Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 31, 2009

BARONE DEFINES 'NORMAL'.... Jon Chait had a great piece yesterday about the "fecklessness" and "parochialism" that too often interferes with the Democratic Party's ability to advance its agenda. U.S. News' Michael Barone argued in response that the Democratic Party also struggles because it's made up of constituencies who aren't "normal."

[T]he Republican Party is the party of people who are considered, by themselves and by others, as normal Americans -- Northern white Protestants in the 19th century, married white Christians more recently -- while the Democratic Party is the party of the out groups who are in some sense seen, by themselves and by others, as not normal -- white Southerners and Catholic immigrants in the 19th century, blacks and white seculars more recently. Thus it's natural for the Democrats to be more fissiparous.

Someone is going to have to help me out with this one. Democrats experience more intra-party fissures than Republicans because African Americans and white secularists aren't "normal"? Republicans join in lock step because it's the party of married white Christians -- who necessarily are "normal"?

To hear Barone tell it, diversity leads to conflict, which somehow explains why center-right Democrats like Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh are undermining the White House domestic agenda.

Except, it's not only bizarre to characterize blacks and secularists as less than "normal," it doesn't even the real causes behind the intra-party challenges facing Democrats. As Chait noted, Barone's argument "would make sense if the Democrats were cracking up over social policy. In fact, they're cracking up over economics -- or, specifically, the fact that Democrats tend to be in hoc to local business interests. There is a structural assymetry between the parties at work, but it lies in the fact that Republicans draw all their economic support from business and back the business agenda, while Democrats draw support from labor and environmentalists along with business and must navigate compromises between the two. But Barone was probably just trying to find another way to work in his oft-stated belief that Democrats are a bunch of freaks disconnected from middle America."

Barone has long been a far-right columnist, but he seems to be heading off the ideological cliff. He recently told a roomful of journalists, for example, that the media took a skeptical attitude towards Sarah Palin because "she did not abort her Down syndrome baby." (He'd argued during the campaign that Palin had "foreign policy experience" because Alaska "is the only state with a border with Russia.")

Like a lot of political junkies, I've spent many an hour referencing the "Almanac of American Politics," which wouldn't exist were it not for Barone. Given this, it's genuinely sad to see what's become of him.

About a year ago, Mark Schmitt had a terrific item on Barone, noting that he'd embraced "a strange kind of conservatism, which seems based largely on the conviction that liberals are soft and stupid."

If Barone wasn't considering retirement before, maybe now would be a good time.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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Comments

Someone is going to have to help me out with this one.

Google "Lee Atwater 1954." That ought to get you started.

Posted by: ed on March 31, 2009 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

I'll have to do a survey, but I'm going to take a guess and conclude that if you went up to the normal American on the street and told him that he was "fissiparous", you might not be able to eat your next meal with your original set of teeth.

The not normal American might just ask you to learn how to use a thesaurus and deduct a few points from your thesis for excessive intellectual pretense.

Posted by: tomj on March 31, 2009 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

I've met a lot of white Christian married couples that are hardly what I would call "normal."

I think by normal, Barone means "people who are the most emotionally invested in inherited social norms."

Posted by: Jon on March 31, 2009 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think the right-wing represents "normal", but even if they did, it would only be proof that there is no intelligent designer.

Posted by: qwerty on March 31, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

25% of the country is normal.

Posted by: garnash on March 31, 2009 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

That's some fine nativist rhetoric from ole Barone.

His definition of "normal" stuck all the way back in the 1800's.

Am I to assume all the northern normal people have moved south in the last century?

Why do are people still handing this clown a paycheck?

Posted by: dontcallmefrancis on March 31, 2009 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Same shit different flies.

Barone, June 20, 2006:

"But I think we have to admit that it's hard for an opposition party to come up with an agenda and that it's particularly difficult for the Democratic Party, which throughout its history has tended to be more heterogeneous and fissiparous than the Republican Party..."

/yawn

Posted by: MissMudd on March 31, 2009 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

It's the opposite problem, Barone's imposing a contemporary definition of "normal" (read very charitably, "hegemonic") on previous periods. We might now think of Southern slaveholders as "abnormal," but it was abolitionists who were widely seen at the time as imperiling the Union with their crazy ideas, even among Republicans.

Posted by: Ron Mexico on March 31, 2009 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

My singular response is that I think they are "in hock" rather than "in hoc"

Posted by: Fred C Dobbs on March 31, 2009 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

So the Democrats are not like a pack of wild rabid dogs, ready to pounce en masse on any percieved prey. Oh, they also turn on any member of the pack that strays, destroying & devouring them as well.
This is a bad thing?
And to label anyone not white, (so-called) Christian, & married as "not normal" just might hinder that minority outreach that the Republicans have given lip service to for so many years.

Posted by: BuzzMon on March 31, 2009 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

If "normal" means being a flaming asshole, Barone is one of the most normal people around.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on March 31, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

maybe to themselves republicans seem "normal," but i don't think there's a single non-republican left who sees the gop as made up up anything but stone crazy assholes.

Posted by: howard on March 31, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

As a white Southerner who 'escaped' from the South (both physically and from the standpoint of the predominant worldview of that region), I find it amusing that Barone suggests that white Southerners are somehow "not normal," due to the demonstrable truth that this particular demographic is often associated with and traditionally vote for Republicans.

It is kind of sad, really, and part of the reason I am glad to be free of that atmosphere--the Republicans for whom Southerners often vote routinely do not have the practical interests of Southerners at heart, and indeed vote against the kinds of measures that can help them (e.g., union support, tax breaks for the rich and corporations).

Posted by: terraformer on March 31, 2009 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

I find it amusing that Barone suggests that white Southerners are somehow "not normal,"

Actually, he thinks they were abnormal in the 19th century. Now he must think they are normal, since the ARE the Republican party.

Posted by: Danp on March 31, 2009 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

Thank God Barone thinks I'm not normal. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Posted by: ckelly on March 31, 2009 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

I recommend that everyone read "The American Whig Party" by Prof. Michael Holt.

The Jacksonian Democrats then (disparagingly referred to as the "Loco Focos") are the Republicans of today, except for maybe their views on banking. The Whigs (who eventually scrambled to either the Know Nothings or the Republicans around 1855) are the Democrats of today. Jacksonian Democrats were for minimalist government, Whigs for government investments in infrastructure, etc.

The same temperaments are evident, the same modes of reasoning. Centrist Whigs distanced themselves from the "crazy" Abolitionists and Free Soilers, just like centrist Democrats run from today's liberals. The Mexican War was initiated under bogus pretenses by a Jacksonian Democratic President, while Congressional Whigs clamoured against it (even though most of them voted for the war authorization.) Jacksonian Democrats impugned Whig patriotism because they did not "support the troops".

Different issues, same mentalities.

Posted by: garnash on March 31, 2009 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

To paraphrase an old rhyme:

Hopperus hipperous, Dems are fissiparous
Gopperus gipperous, Repubs are unzipperous

Posted by: Jim Strain on March 31, 2009 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

From that excerpt, he's not even glossing over the fact that he believes "normal"=white. Just being a christian isn't normal enough unless you're also white, and married.

So be it then, we're a nation of freaks now who elected a freak president. Considering the demographic trends, folks like Barone need to learn to accept that the "normal" folks will no longer be the majority in this country.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on March 31, 2009 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Barone's "there's normal Americans and then there are Democrats" is only slightly different from what James Watt said in 1981: "there are Americans and then there are liberals." It's the same mindset.

Further proof that "the only 'good Republicans' are pushing up daisies."

Posted by: TCinLA on March 31, 2009 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

Suggestion-- stop supporting Barone's AoAP & try out CQs 'Politics in America'

Posted by: OCinCO on March 31, 2009 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

Good points in the post about Jacksonian Democrats and Whigs. I would point out to the professor quoted that the Jacksonians were against central banking (the 2nd Bank of the United States) and many modern rightwing Republicans have been against the Federal Reserve since it began.

I have never figured out why Democrats pay such homage to a slave-owning, murderous, racist Southern pig as Andrew Jackson. But then I don't understand why they laud that narrow-minded Southern bigot Woodrow Wilson, the man who made Jim Crow the policy of the Federal Government when he took office.

Posted by: TCinLA on March 31, 2009 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

Considering the demographic trends, folks like Barone need to learn to accept that the "normal" folks will no longer be the majority in this country.

They know it. Why do you think they're so angry?

Posted by: shortstop on March 31, 2009 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

Real Americans boycott Spain and their loofahs.

Posted by: berttheclock on March 31, 2009 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

Haven't yet read Barone's piece and not sure I can bring myself to do so, but here's a thing or two I'd be curious about:

Did Barone say what caused the migration of the normal people from the North to the South and the not so normal ones in the opposite direction over the last one to two hundred years?

Or did the people stay put and what happened was that only normality migrated south?

Whatever caused the North to lapse into non-normality after it's glorious experience with normality in the 19th century?

Is it possible that there's just a finite amount of normality and once it left the North for the South there just wasn't enough left and the North lapsed by default?

Or are normality and non-normality like matter and anti-matter in their relationship to each other? Is there a danger then that the country might disappear in a red hot ball of fire if the two clash on the occasions of, say, something like one of the next national elections?

Gotta say Barone's really got me worried now. Guess I'm better gonna go and have a look at his piece after all.

Posted by: SRW1 on March 31, 2009 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

TCinLA, Don't leave out The Trail of Tears and the glorification of "Birth of a Nation".

Posted by: berttheclock on March 31, 2009 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

Steve: Notice you objected only to blacks and secularists being termed "abnormal." No objections to Catholics being so labeled. Doesn't fit your throwing all believers in Jesus Christ into one lump, does it? Notice that "Christians", ie., WASPs, also share your prejudice.

Posted by: impartial on March 31, 2009 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

Barone's thesis is absurd (there's an super-abundance of absurdity in political discourse, especially from the right -- did you read what Keyes wrote about Obama & Notre Dame?). The reason Republicans stick together is due to their love of authoritarianism.

And conversely, Democrats have a harder time obtaining agreements amongst themselves because they aren't as obsessed with narrow ideology and parroting the same (absurd) "talking points." There is divergence of opinion, but more importantly, divergence of thought as well.

The Republicans aren't good at thinking.

Posted by: zhak on March 31, 2009 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

My aunt used to pull that stuff all the time, and for all I know still does. "We are the real Americans: Midwest, white, Protestant, Republicans." And what about all those others? She'd just shrug. I've lived all over the country, and everywhere I've gone, people are convinced they're the real Americans. Go figure.

And Barone -- that sounds Italian. Ethnic. Even -- Catholic. And yet he has the goomph to consider himself a "normal" American? What a dolt. Just like my aunt. Must run in the family -- the human one, that is.

Posted by: ericfree on March 31, 2009 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Steve: Pope Benedict on Line 1. He wants to discuss your throwing all believers in Jesus Christ into one lump.

Posted by: Mr DeBakey on March 31, 2009 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

That's interesting, growing up in urban NJ, watching old movies with my grandma I was pretty sure that Bogie, Cagney and the Dead End Kids were the real Americans, just like me, crackers were just there when the plot needed a rube.

Posted by: The Pale Scot on March 31, 2009 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

You guys are more or less deliberately mis-representing Barone's point, focusing on "normal". Hell, you habitually ECHO his point when you get closer to what it really is -- that Republicans and conservatives, by and large, represent the interests of the 'haves', while Democrats and progressives more or less represent the interests of the 'have-nots': it is easier to hold the haves together, than the have-nots.

So why miss the point? Again?

Barone echoes Chait, pointing out that they make the same analysis, really -- Chait argues that Democrats fracture because there are lots of ways to move forward, while Republicans find it easier to maintain discipline since, after all, there is only one way to stand still. (That particular formulation, in fact, wasn't coined by Barone OR Chait -- the idea is at least as old as FDR.)

So why are you bitching so foolishly about how he said it? Can any of you say it better?

It's essentially a sharper way of revealing the same fault line that Reagan inadvertently illuminated when he said he was for civil rights "when the country didn't know it had a racial problem." Many folks heard that as a jaw-dropping piece of ignorance -- what, African-Americans weren't part of "the country"? Cuz they sure as hell knew "we" had a racial problem.

But Reagan was after all a political leader, not an analyst. So consider the actual analysis.

Barone (and Chait) are onto something, that you guys flat-out don't recognize, because ... it's YOU.

Barone correctly identifies Republicans as a more self-satisfied bunch than Democrats -- "the party of the out groups who are in some sense seen, by themselves and by others, as not normal—white Southerners and Catholic immigrants in the 19th century, blacks and white seculars more recently..."

Time after time, in the host's posts and in the comments, we see precisely the characteristics that Barone (and Chait) are identifying -- if somebody mused around here (like Ed Green, the senior researcher at Harvard's School of Public Health) that maybe the Pope had a point about condom use actually making the spread of AIDS worse, not better, because of the implicit encouragement of multiple partners, certainly compared with the Vatican (and others) focus on monogamy, there is an immediate and reflexive anti-Catholicism.

Do the math -- there are 65 million American Catholics, a much larger percentage of the population than for any other denomination, and for most folks, an aspiration to monogamy is still "the norm".

So -- just in that example, and there are lots of others, promptly, and vigorously, you guys define yourselves as either anti-normal, or a "new" normal: which is precisely Barone's point. You don't have to like the way he said it, to recognize he's right, cuz...

NEITHER of those is a stable mortar for a political structure. If y'all weren't so compelled to dis the guy while you prove his point, you might actually notice what it is.

Posted by: anonymous on March 31, 2009 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

many modern rightwing Republicans have been against the Federal Reserve since it began.

Well, technically, no--the Federal Reserve was founded in 1913. Most of those guys who opposed it since it began are dead of old age by now.

Posted by: rea on March 31, 2009 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

So, I was raised by Catholic immigrants, but am kind of a secularist now (or maybe a cafeteria Catholic). So am I two degrees of abnormal, or do the Catholic immigrant and secular things cancel each other out and swing me back to normal again? And would that mean I'm on the same team as Barone's buddies? Cause if so, I'd like to swing back to the abnormal camp again.

Posted by: gradysu on March 31, 2009 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Wingnuts: you're defending a column entitled "Republicans are normal, Democrats are not."

A vicious extremist pundit calls a majority of the population "abnormal" and somehow the poor little Republicans are the victims. There is a reason why normal people have abandoned the Republican party - and why they are a shrinking regional minority. One important component is spitting in the face of all sorts of people. Are you non-religious? Then to Barone and his fellow fanatics in this comment thread you're abnormal. Nonwhite? Abnormal. Gay? Abnormal. Someone who doesn't hate gays or atheists? Abnormal.

Do the math - tell a large enough fraction of the public that you have no use for them and you won't just lose all of their votes. You'll lose the votes of people repelled by narrow-minded bigots.

But go right ahead and combine your nastiness with whining about how oppressed you are. It only helps to marginalize the malignant tumor that the Republican party has become.

Posted by: Marc on March 31, 2009 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

anonymous: I agree that there is a reflexive anti-Catholicism among a lot of people, and that it is one of the few types of bigotry people can express that is not only tolerated but downright fashionable in many cases.

But 54% of people who self-identified as Catholics voted for Obama. So I hope you're not trying to lump them into the conservative bucket.

Posted by: lcross on March 31, 2009 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

For what it's worth: I've heard "normal" used to define anyone who is white and Christian and, for want of a better word, respectful of the rich. All the rest are "not normal," including I suppose all black people even if they happen to be Christian and respectful of the rich. We refer to these people as The Bigots. The last I heard of one such subset, they were bankrupt. I don't know how respectful of the rich they still are, but I'm sure they're still white.

Posted by: SF on March 31, 2009 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder how Barone describes the Palin crowd, who have ministers lay hands on them to keep the voodoo away and who think they're going to be hoovered up in the rapture. Normal is not the first word that leaps to mind...

Posted by: gradysu on March 31, 2009 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Just for grins I looked up "normal" and the first definition is "conforming to the standard or the common type." If your group comprises only 25% of the population, how can that be true of you?

Other definitions include "approximately average in any psychological trait, as intelligence, personality, or emotional adjustment" and "free from any mental disorder; sane." Does that describe ANY Republican member of Congress?

Posted by: gradysu on March 31, 2009 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

Michael Barone has ALWAYS been a ass, for as far back as I can remember. Why would anyone think he would suddenly become lucid now ?

Posted by: Joe Friday on March 31, 2009 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

Do the math -- there are 65 million American Catholics, a much larger percentage of the population than for any other denomination, and for most folks, an aspiration to monogamy is still "the norm".

You do realize that American Catholics are not uniformly white, correct? That may be the case at your parish, but it certainly isn't at mine.

And, yes, many Americans aspire to monogamy, but some of them are legally barred from having the state recognize them for doing so because their desire for monogamy is considered aberrant and wrong. When monogamy is "normal" for some people but "abnormal" for others, it's hard to argue that there's some kind of inherent value in monogamy itself. Only certain people are considered "normal" if they're publicly monogamous.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on March 31, 2009 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Cheers to Barone for teaching me a new $10 word. Jeers to Barone for wasting my time with his ridiculous 19th century attitudes (are they even THAT current?).

Posted by: Strider on March 31, 2009 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

'Nemo always manages to sound stoopider than even I expected.

What's 60 percent of 65 million, HMMMMM? I'll wait while you do the math. Here, borrow my calculator.

The point, boyz 'n' girlz, is not how many Catholics are white, although that number ain't nuthin' to sneeze at, see? The point, if you'd take a slight detour from irrational hatred long enough to see it (cuz you people just can't get over your anger issues), is that you don't win elections by pissing on the things that traditional Yanks hold dear. THAT'S how Democrats end up getting pummeled in election after election.

Not because our policies are wrong, but because you boobs have no idea how to talk to people. Nun whatsoevah.

It's like Knute Rockne once told a quarterback, "Football is as American as baseball, apple pie and motherhood...AS LONG AS that mother is white and Christian."

Guy saw way past the pigskin, dinnit he?

Reject norms, and the norms reject YOU.

Am I getting through to any of you yet?

Posted by: anonymericanist on March 31, 2009 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

The point, if you'd take a slight detour from irrational hatred long enough to see it (cuz you people just can't get over your anger issues), is that you don't win elections by pissing on the things that traditional Yanks hold dear. THAT'S how Democrats end up getting pummeled in election after election.

Yeah, we really took a beating in '06 and '08, because we don't know how to talk to people and we piss on their beliefs. Or maybe Americans today hold different things near and dear(including all types of Christians) than some dead football coach from 60 years ago.

Any of this getting through to you? Didn't think so.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on March 31, 2009 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with the word "normal" is that it's one of those words that means anything you want it to mean. "Normal" is nothing, and everything.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on March 31, 2009 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Since patience is a virtue...

Barone's primary point is that Democrats have problems being politically disciplined, because they are the party of have-nots, of folks who want to CHANGE social norms (e.g., civil rights, broader prosperity).

I doubt any of you disagree with that. So what are you bitching about?

Cuz, good God! it is amazing how fast you rush to 1) demonstrate how he was right, and 2) how you don't understand what you exemplify.

F'r instance, without a trace of self-awareness, Mnemosyne writes "many Americans aspire to monogamy, but some of them are legally barred from having the state recognize them for doing so because their desire for monogamy is considered aberrant and wrong."

Um.... and isn't that precisely what Barone observed, as a bit of secondary evidence to his main point, that Democrats identify themselves as "the party of the out groups who are in some sense seen, by themselves and by others, as not normal.."

Hello? Mnemosyne makes Barone's point, practically in the words he used, viz., "considered [by society] aberrant and wrong", compared with Barone's "in some sense... not normal."

Can't you guys READ anything that isn't pre-chewed for your own self-righteous solipsisms?

Barone went on to note of his primary point, citing Chait who made essentially the same argument, that it is easier to maintain political discipline representing the "haves", to SUSTAIN social norms: this is why Republicans generally have more political discipline than Democrats, who are trying to change 'em.

If anybody knows a better way to explain the psychology of this sort of political identification, let 'em try -- but the fact that, without prompting, y'all prove Barone's points (even, maybe especially the ones you don't understand, e.g., that Mnemosyne would describe 'considered by some aberrant' is just about the most direct proof of 'in some sense abnormal' imaginable), suggests that maybe you'd be better off not criticizing what you don't understand.

Then again, it is quite likely that you don't know you don't understand it. Has no one ever explained that the beginning of wisdom is knowing when you're ignorant?

Apply the lesson.

Posted by: anonymous on March 31, 2009 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

F'r instance, without a trace of self-awareness, Mnemosyne writes "many Americans aspire to monogamy, but some of them are legally barred from having the state recognize them for doing so because their desire for monogamy is considered aberrant and wrong."

Sweetheart, I wasn't replying to Barone. I was replying directly to you and your implication that only straight, white Catholics are interested in having monogamous relationships.

I was replying directly to your idea that monogamy is only "normal" when some people practice it, but that you consider it "abnormal" when other people practice the exact same thing.

So either monogamy is not really the marker of "normal" behavior that you claim it is, or you're admitting that you're deliberately blocking people from behaving normally so you can maintain your vision of what "normal" is.

Um.... and isn't that precisely what Barone observed, as a bit of secondary evidence to his main point, that Democrats identify themselves as "the party of the out groups who are in some sense seen, by themselves and by others, as not normal.."

I realize that you don't consider gay people normal so therefore they must automatically be the out-group since you're the epitome of normal and you say they're not normal like you, but that puts you in a distinct minority these days. So when the thing that you consider "abnormal" is now considered normal, who exactly is the out group here?

Posted by: Mnemosyne on March 31, 2009 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

Posted by: anonymous on March 31, 2009 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK
I'll give you this anon, virtue is hard, vice is simple. That is what we are seeing in the current Washington drama.

Normal is really beside the point.

Posted by: Northern Observer on March 31, 2009 at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK

Barone is an idiot. He might just want to read some history - his description of the present-day Democratic Party perfectly fits the Republican Party from its founding until the 1870's and again from the 1890's up to WWI.
Of course, that was before the GOP had completely sold out to Big Business...

Posted by: Doug on March 31, 2009 at 9:12 PM | PERMALINK

"your implication that only straight, white Catholics are interested in having monogamous relationships..."

THen you can't read.

"they must automatically be the out-group since you're the epitome of normal.."

See, this is more proof of Barone's point: I said nothing REMOTELY like this, and you promptly imputed to me (which does not follow from anything I said) things that I don't believe.

This is EXACTLY Barone's point -- folks whose first reflex is to exclude based on downright paranoid notions of ideological purity do not take well to discipline.

Are you truly that dense?

Posted by: anonymous on April 1, 2009 at 7:30 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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