…the absolute worst ballot name in the history of participatory democracy.
…the absolute worst ballot name in the history of participatory democracy.
It’s rare that I have any considerable daylight’s worth of disagreement with the political analysis of frequent YNN-Partner-In-Crime Harvey Kronberg, but something he said near the end of his most recent analysis on YNN caught my eye:
With all of this, there is still the opportunity for an October surprise. The classic was the indictment of Reagan Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger for his role in the Iran Contra Affair just four days before Bill Clinton narrowly defeated the first President Bush in 1992.
First off, Clinton did not “narrowly” defeat Bush in 1992. In the only measure that counts – electoral votes – Clinton demolished Bush by earning almost 69% of them.
“AHA!,” I can almost hear Kronberg, and you, screeching. “But what about the popular vote??!”
Friends, I know we’ve all been brainwashed by countless national polling every single day which provides a daily – almost hourly – reminder of where things stand in the Presidential election. And for the sake of this civics lesson I’ll even set aside the fact that Clinton bested Bush by almost 6 million popular votes nationally (which, also, ain’t that narrow). But here’s the bottom line: measuring national popular votes for a Presidential candidate is about as useful a measure to the outcome of a Presidential campaign as counting dead squirrels killed in the Presidential race as a useful measure of outcome of a Presidential race. It just doesn’t count at all.
The candidate who gets 270 electoral votes or more is the candidate who wins a Presidential election, period. Therefore, the campaign with their focus on how best to win those electoral votes is the smart campaign. And the pundits who forget that fact are too lost in the national polling forest to see the electoral vote trees.
Don’t get me wrong – national polls are useful, and I’m glad I get to obsess on them every day, because I’m a dork that way. There’s no better measure of which candidate has the national momentum. But national polls only serve to estimate a national popular vote – and that is just simply not how we elect Presidents.
There are arguments which could be made that it shouldn’t be the process. But nobody can make a fact-based argument that it isn’t the process. And since that’s the process, arguing that Clinton only narrowly defeated Bush just isn’t accurate.
There’s been a lot of noise – and I do mean noise – against Prop 1 in Travis County Texas in recent days. The people making most of it would be hysterically funny, if the outcome of that ballot measure wasn’t so incredibly important to the quality of healthcare for Central Texas.
The proposition, which has incredibly broad support across the community, would help fund a central Texas medical school, in turn improving specialty care services, trauma services, and overall access and quality of health care in the area. Experts estimate that for every dollar invested now on this, $2.46 will be generated. It’s just a damn good deal all around.
That point is lost on the folks who oppose it. Who are those folks? I’m so glad you asked.
They’re led by people like Don Zimmerman. I tweeted about him yesterday. It’s time for a little context.
Mr. Zimmerman, you may or may not recall, led efforts to sue to overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act a few years ago. The Voting Rights Act is the federal law, passed in the 60’s and re-authorized under President George W. Bush, which has done more than anything to ensure that racial minorities can vote freely in elections. Section 5 of the Act is the part that ensures that areas that have historically discriminated against minority voting rights don’t weasel out. So Zimmerman wanted the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out Section 5. The Supreme Court subsequently and very courtiously invited Zimmerman to suck a nut. They didn’t give him what he wanted.
Fast forward to now, and Prop 1. See, Zimmerman is against Prop 1. Presumably because Zimmerman is against pretty much everything, except perhaps cheesy red shirts. But urging people to vote no on it wasn’t good enough for Zimmerman, so he has sued in Federal court to prevent voters from even having a say. The suit is currently pending.
Here’s where it gets good: he sued under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act – the very law he tried to get thrown out a few years ago. The hypocricy is stunning in its beauty and perfection.
But here’s where it gets even better: he realized that he made a mistake in filing the suit under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and he has now amended his suit. He now claims that the proposition violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
But here is where it gets the very best: here’s why, in his new and improved pleadings, he says it violates the Voting Rights Act:
The description has not been, as required by statute, limited to the statutory language, but expanded far beyond what is permitted, to promote the ballot proposition. This is a violation of the Voting Rights Act as such change will tend to have a discriminatory effect on minority voters based on historical date [sic] such as reading comprehension. [emphasis added]
Go back and read that key passage one more time – I double-dog dare ya.
Zimmerman just said that Prop 1 discriminates because minorities can’t read. Even more pathetically, Zimmerman’s sloppy writing skills, in explaining that minorities can’t read, only proved that Zimmerman can’t write.
So rest easy, Austin – the future quality and availability of your health care needs rests with the likes o’ Don Zimmerman and his buddies. Unless, of course, you ignore their way-too-white noise, and go vote for Prop 1.
I had feared going into tonight’s debate on foreign policy that the President might fare as poorly as a draw, because even as he was winning in the second debate last week, he didn’t do a particularly great job explaining himself when the topic turned to foreign policy then. It was mostly because of Governor Romney’s blunder on precisely when Obama first termed the attack in Libya “terrorism,” and moderator Candy Crowley’s assist on that question, that people weren’t talking about it later. Instead, they were talking about Romney being wrong. Again.
But my fears of a draw were for nothing, because Obama came loaded for bear, hitting Romney again and again on Romney’s incoherent positions, leaving Romney reeling on his heels for the first full 30 minutes of the 90 minute debate. Obama was not only more in command, but he had the lion’s share of the memorable dingers certain to be re-played over the next few days.
Obama was also first out of the chute to turn a debate slated to be 100 percent foreign policy into a discussion about domestic policy, which was admittedly just fine with Romney. But on that front as well, Obama edged out Romney with his command of the issues and the agressiveness of his attacks on Romney’s ever-varying positions.
The most puzzling thing about the debate is why the exact same Mitt Romney showed up this week as the Mitt Romney who showed up last week. Romney lost that debate, and this week’s performance should have been an opportunity for course corrections.
It would be difficult to over-state the importance of Obama winning this last debate. Obama losing the first of the three proved how damaging it is for an incumbent President to be caught napping – nobody was ever even talking about this being a serious race until Romney bested him their first time out. But Democrats breathed a sigh of relief when the Obama who showed up tonight was the same Obama who showed up last week. He was eager to very forcefully defend his policies, and equally eager to define Romney’s lack of consistency before Romney could innoculate himself against the charge.
More local to Texas, guess who else is breathing a little easier now? Democrats on the same ballot running in tough real estate. Wendy Davis in the Senate. State House members like Craig Eiland in Galveston, Joe Moody in El Paso, or Donna Howard in Austin. Congressional candidates like Pete Gallego or Nick Lampson. Those Dems don’t need Obama to win in their districts, and in some of those examples, Obama certainly won’t. But what those down-ballot Democrats can’t have is Obama getting creamed in their districts, creating such a drag on their own races that voters don’t even consider the individual Democrats running down-ballot. That’s what happened across the state two years ago, which was key to creating the Republican supermajority in the state House. And Obama besting Romney in the last two of their three debates probably swings hundreds of state legislative districts across the country, including some in Texas.
Tonight’s debate moderator Bob Schieffer is probably breathing easier as well, since he may have become the only moderator in the 2012 debate season who is all-but-unassailable in his performance tonight. He kept complete command of the event, and neither played it safe nor strayed into territory which partisans on either side could credibly criticize as rationale for why their little perfect angel of a candidate “would have” won.
There’s no doubt that it was the Obama’s night, and the President very much needed another one, like the one he had last week. Even after Romney’s first debate win created a Romney bump, the electoral map still looked daunting for the Republicans – but at least they could see a glimmer of hope.
But since this debate was the last opportunity for Romney to fuel a surge for his campaign (barring breaking news neither campaign can control), things may start returning to the bleakness Republicans were beginning to feel before the debate season.
All-in-all, it was a bad night for Romney, at the worst possible timing. Looking forward, watch out of wild-ass charges coming from Republicans aimed at Obama. It may well be the only play they have left to make.
I have to hand it to Mitt Romney – he had a very spirited first half of a debate tonight. Unfortunately for him, he had it with moderator Candy Crowley.
Meanwhile, Barack Obama ran the table, seemingly without Romney noticing.
Obama showed up to tonight’s town hall-style debate clear about what he needed to accomplish. He was determined to not let pass any moment during which Romney misrepresented either his own or Obama’s positions or record. On this front alone, Obama would have won the debate.
But, especially in the first half, Obama didn’t just win, he mopped the floor with Romney. He showed all the spirit he was lacking in the first debate. He held Romney’s feet to the fire in all the ways his campaign wished he had in the first debate. And he dominated, without seeming domineering, like he should have in the first debate.
It’s not that the second half of tonight’s town hall was much better for Romney. It was, however, more scary for Obama supporters. Obama got a bit wild-eyed toward the end, and Obama voters could be forgiven for being tempted to want to reach through the TV and push him back just a bit. But he always pulled himself back just in time.
Incidentally, I read the memorandum of understanding between the two campaigns earlier today, and everybody involved – including Crowley – broke the agreed-to rules, big-time. But it was already clear before tonight that debate rules were meant to be broken, and it didn’t detract from this information flow. Mostly it was amusing.
Crowley, for her part, showed up determined not to be Lehrer’ed, and she succeeded. On the other hand, calling on a voter to ask a question about guns, before you had ever called on anybody to ask about public education, when you’re running out of time? Seriously?
I was in the studio at YNN Austin, watching the debate on the set with Republican frequent partner-in-crime Ted Delisi, and Ted had an interesting observation I completely agree with: the Presidential Debate Commission never picks Texas as a debate site. I think Ted’s onto something, especially watching the white people-fest that passes for “a diverse group of undecided voters” in New York. Let’s face it: those yankees were annoying the crap out of me. What about a town hall debate in San Antonio next time, Commissioners? We’ll show you diverse, and we promise that not all the questions will be about taking our guns away.
What now? I think the President gets his solid momentum back, that’s what now. I think the big gender gap in which an overwhelming majority of women support Obama is reinforced. I think serious doubts about Mitt Romney among a lot of swing voters in key states returns. And I think in the few days we’ll begin to see the polling swing back Obama’s way, with him gaining back a lot of ground lost two weeks ago after his weak debate performance then.
And I think Democrats can afford exactly one-half of a sigh of relief. Because the bottom line is, this will still be a very close race and Democrats have a lot of work left to do to win it.
That’s how his voicemails to me would always begin, every single time, in exactly the same tone of voice, no matter the mood he was in or the reason for the call. And usually when I returned the call to my sometimes-client and always-friend state Senator Mario Gallegos, the conversation would start the next wild ride of some sort. He always had an idea on how to stop a bad bill, or pass a good one, or to win some local Houston election, or to make bad people squirm, or to spur some economic development of some sort in his district, or to start a big fight, or something. Always something. Never nothing.
There are two things that could be said about Mario Gallegos that one couldn’t honestly say about most people.
First, Mario Gallegos spent the entire span of his professional life in public service. Mario was a firefighter for 22 years, followed by his service of 21 years in the legislature – most straightforward resume in history. How many people can say they spent their entire life working to make everybody else’s life work better?
Second, every single day of his life – both good days and bad days – he did his very best. That’s hardly ever true of anybody, but I believe it’s true of Mario. He had some days he wasn’t proud of, and some days he fell short, other days during which he was nothing short of spectacularly heroic, and every kind of day in between, but he always did. His. Very. Best. How many people can you say that about?
There’s an old quote that I read to Senator Gallegos and his family Sunday night in Houston when I was saying goodbye. I told them that it’s a shame it’s an old quote, because anybody who knows Mario Gallegos would recognize it as something that damn well should have been written up specially for him. Here’s what I read him:
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “holy crap! What a ride!”
Mario, they broke the mold when they made you, buddy. It was, indeed, a hell of a ride, and I will miss you something fierce. Rest in peace.
( Also consider reading “Rodeo Clowns,” a piece I wrote featuring Senator Gallegos more than three years ago)
Perhaps you should consider the advice of this naked man living in a cave.
Tonight is Barack Obama’s big chance.
Two weeks ago, Mitt Romney was able to reverse much of weeks, if not months, of a Bataan death march of a campaign because of the President’s lackluster debate performance. It showed in a reversal of the national polls, most of which showed Romney in the lead after the first debate, and in key state polls which showed at least a bump for the Massachusetts Governor. There’s little doubt that the first debate, for the first time in months, made Mitt Romney at contender.
Last week, Vice President Biden stopped the bleeding, in his own debate performance against Paul Ryan. Biden didn’t hit a home run, but he got a solid base hit and fired up the team. (again with the sports analogies)
But ultimately, incumbent Presidents have to make a case for themselves to win re-election. It helps when a former President like Bill Clinton makes a strong case for Obama, as Clinton did at the Democrats’ national convention. It helps when Joe Biden makes a strong case for Obama, as he did last week. Now it’s time for the President to make a strong case for himself.
If the President can do it tonight, he’ll be back in a commanding position in the election. And if he can’t, we’ll have a real race on our hands. No pressure there, huh?
Complicating Obama’s job is the format. Town hall meetings mean the candidates are talking to real live undecided voters, in person. In order to connect with the voters across the country who count the most – undecided voters in the swing states – Obama must first connect with the undecided voter in the room tonight asking the question. He can’t just score points in skirmishes with his opponent, or moderator Candy Crowley.
Crowley herself is another factor. Arguably, she’ll be the moderator this election most inclined toward sharp challenges to a questionable claim either candidate makes. This is certainly something that Mr. Romney will have to take into account, since Crowley is unlikely to let slide Romney’s ever-shifting policy positions. But Crowley is certain not to fail to take the President to the woodshed any time she thinks he’s weaseling on.
This is the second time the two candidates have met, and second debates are always about course corrections for the loser of the first debate. It is a certainty that we will see a very different Barack Obama tonight than we saw two weeks ago. The real question is, will the Obama we see tonight perform more effectively than the one we saw two weeks ago? My guess is that he’ll get his groove back tonight, if only because he’s shown himself to be at his best when his back is against the wall.
Here’s what I said about it on Fox News in Austin last night. Frequent Republican partner-in-crime Ted Delisi and I will be on the pre-game show, and post-game analysis, on YNN Austin this evening, beginning at 7:45 Central.
Debates are, among other things, potentially good political theater. I would only have added the word “potentially” after last week’s snore-fest between President Obama and Governor Romney showed that debates don’t have to interesting at all.
But tonight’s debate between Vice President Biden and Congressman Ryan proved to be everything last week’s effort wasn’t. I don’t care who you are, it was a damn good show in which all three people on the stage exceeded expectations.
Biden, to the disappointment of Republicans, was free of major gaffes, and full of passion, spit, and vinegar.
Ryan, to the disappointment of Democrats, didn’t curl up in a tight little sniveling ball of inexperience. He hung in there and held his own, and I applaud his parents, who, in the words of a friend of mine, generously allowed Ryan to stay up late tonight and participate.
Debate moderator Martha Raddatz, who was bound to look pretty good after following such an easy act from last week’s dismal performance by Jim Lehrer, did her job extraordinarily well under tough circumstances.
The toughest circumstance came in a package named Joe Biden, who suited up for the game, left it all on the field, and probably at least four other football metaphors. It was clear that Biden’s memo from his boss was “I screwed up and let Romney get away with every mischaracterization imaginable – it’s your job this week to do my job from last week.”
Republicans will complain that Biden interrupted Ryan too much. Democrats will counter that Biden only interrupted when Ryan’s misrepresentations needed to be pointed out, and as such, Biden cannot be faulted if Ryan cannot utter a single sentence without a misrepresentation. Both complaints have a lot of merit, but Biden’s performance wins out – because Biden made the compelling case for the boss that the boss failed to make last week.
For Ryan’s part, his weakest moments were, admittedly, not his fault. The weak moments came when Raddatz pressed Ryan for the specifics of Romney’s plans. Ryan wasn’t stumped the Ryan is stupid – Ryan was stumped because Romney’s specifics don’t exist. It was most noticeable in the discussion on tax reform, but also quite noticeable in the health care discussion. When the dust settles from tonight’s debate, observant voters may well conclude that Paul Ryan’s biggest shortcoming is Mitt Romney.
But to be sure, it is clear from tonight that Paul Ryan is no Sarah Palin. Democrats should consider him armed and dangerous, and should have from the start.
The debate may well not be a net gain for Democrats, but make no mistake – important gains were made nevertheless. Biden stopped much of the bleeding from last week. There will be voters who are undoubtedly turned off by Biden’s aggressive approach. There are other voters who aren’t satisfied, because a President ultimately must make a case for himself, not a case made by his number two. But there will be a lot of voters who will like the fact that Biden’s aggressive approach was in aggressively defending the middle class, in aggressively correcting Republican misrepresentations, and in aggressively making a passionate stand for the policies of the Obama administration.
But much of Obama’s gains from the Veep debate will be Democratic gains. A despondent Democrat is a worthless Democrat, and too many Democrats completely freaked out and irrationally over-reacted to Obama’s listless performance last week. They needed the morale boost of Biden’s performance. Their enthusiasm may not show up immediately, but it will show up, just as their lack of enthusiasm following the last debate showed up in the polls.
While tonight wasn’t a home run for the Obama team, Biden’s clutch performance ensures that the Obama team is still in the game, and in the swing states, remains in good field position.
Remember what I said earlier this week, in the piece below this one, about what President Obama and Governor Romney needed to do, and needed to avoid tonight? None of that happened.
When I wrote the piece below, about how Romney could win tonight’s debate, it undoubtedly wasn’t what my favorite Democratic friends wanted to hear. Neither will this piece.
I said in the debate preview that Romney needed to change the game, since he’s the guy who’s behind. Romney failed to do it.
I also said in the preview that Obama needed to avoid getting to explainy, and he failed to avoid it spectacularly. I also said he needed to connect with voters at an emotional level, and he didn’t do that either.
Luckily for the President, Romney matched Obama explainy-for-explainy, and together, arm-in-arm, both candidates happily dove, over the decomposing corpse of moderator Jim Lehrer, right off the explanation cliff.
I’ll be blunt: this was the most boring, and least effectively moderated, Presidential debate ever.
Obama’s objective was clearly to put Romney on the defensive, and Obama succeeded – the entire night was essentially about Romney. But Romney comported himself well enough, and in hindsight his ability to do so was entirely predictable. Obama’s strategy put Romney right into Romney’s comfort zone, where he has the most experience: debating on defense. He got that experience during the approximately 1,348,499 debates held during the Republican nominating process. Since he was the perceived frontrunner during most of those debates, he got accustomed to debates being a referrendum on Romney’s proposals.
To be fair, Obama’s strategy might have been more effective if Lehrer, the moderator, had managed not to doze off along with the rest of America. From Obama supporters’ perspective, whoppers were being hooked, but not reeled in. One need look no farther than the first excruciating 15 minutes of the debate, in which an extended discussion of Romney’s tax plan was batted around. It became more apparent than ever that the answer to the core question – does Romney’s tax plan balance, or not – is dependent on the component of the plan Romney has steadfastly declined to clarify: which tax deductions will he eliminate?
This would have been a perfect time for Mr. Lehrer to return from the restroom where he was taking a leak and simply press Romney for an answer about which tax deductions would get axed. If Romney had declined to answer, that would have been big news. If Romney had finally given a straight answer, that would have been even bigger news, and a pretty neat thing for Americans to know, I’m guessing. Or so you’d think. Lehrer also let Romney run away from his own tax plan without significant challenge.
You’d also think that in a 90 minute debate exclusively about domestic issues, Lehrer might have encouraged the candidates to devote a good 10-15 seconds or so on women. But if there was any discussion whatsoever on the issues associated with the largest gender gap for Republicans in recent political memory, I must have missed it…which would have been understandable since it was a challenge to stay awake.
I will say this for the President: he did lay out a clear-eyed, sober, level-headed case for himself, while Governor Romney was busy defending his proposals. But because both men said way too little and took way too much time saying it, the message was lost to television viewership which was undoubtedly plummeting by the minute as the boredom set in.
Make no mistake – I don’t believe this debate changed the game, so on that score Obama won, because he’s the man in the lead. But a man as gifted as Obama should have connected better, and wonked less. A journalist with the stature of Jim Lehrer shouldn’t have let both candidates muck around in the weeds without either of them covering any significant new ground. And on points that probably don’t change a thing, Romney did well tonight.
This is the week journalists will be asking everybody in sight how Romney can change the game by winning the debate Wednesday (spoiler alert – they already are). And the mere fact that they’re asking how Romney can change the game is the clearest indication yet that Romney is losing.
Fact is, my Democratic friends who claim this election is over – Obama’s already won it – are engaged in wishful thinking. Debates can change the election mood. So can 36 remaining days worth of world events, economic reports, and potential gaffes by one candidate or another, even aside from debates.
The odds are overwhelming that the President will emerge from this and the other two Presidential debates just fine. After all, it is, indeed, Mitt Romney who must change the game, not Barack Obama. Obama must only prevent Romney from presenting such a compelling case that voters change their minds and decide to fire the President.
But lest we forget: Ronald Reagan was still trailing Jimmy Carter until after a strong debate showing. Rick Perry was still considered a formidable candidate until the debates. George H.W. Bush was still solidly in “incumbent advantage” mode until he impatiently and ineptly kept glancing at his watch to see how many more minutes he had left to endure the pipsqueak Bill Clinton, until the debates. Some Texans were still under the impression that Kinky Friedman was something more than a second rate jokester until a gubernatorial debate clearly showed that he was actually a third rate one. Debates can, indeed, change the tone.
Here are five ways the election can be re-set to Mitt Romney’ advantage this Wednesday night:
1. Obama, who can get very explainy, can be inordinately explainy this Wednesday. The only politician alive who can get away with explaining government to people is Bill Clinton. The efforts of everybody else to do so is the fastest way known to man to make voters’ eyes glaze over. Obama needs to communicate values and priorities – not assault voters’ ear drums with facts and figures, which in an incumbent protection election sound like excuses. If Obama gets stuck in those weeds, Romney will win the debate.
2. The President must connect to people at an emotional level. Letting his personal annoyance with Romney show through isn’t a good way to do it – it’s more of a way to give voters the impression that Obama is arrogant. The “I deeply care about the future of this country” message Obama needs to convey could well be interrupted by the competing “Mitt, you really annoy the crap out of me and I’d like to squash you like the mosquito you are” negative message Obama will convey if he’s not careful.
3. Mr. Romney could, at long last, focus on the economy in such a compelling way that it captures voters’ attention. Yes, we got to #3 before even approaching a possibility that Romney can control – one of the big problems with the Romney campaign – but the possibility exists. Romney’s camp has said all year that he wants the election to be about the economy, and all year long Romney has instead been veering off chasing pretty butterflies instead. If Romney makes this Wednesday’s debate about the economy, and treats it like the beginning of a continuing process lasting for the duration of the election, instead of treating it like a sound byte he visits from time to time, in between pointless Obama-dinging on other issues, Romney could change the game.
4. Romney could surprise everybody by getting specific about what a Romney administration would look like; he could answer the nagging questions that have been holding back his candidacy. Does his tax plan balance – without doing away with the most popular deductions? Can he actually answer the health care reform question in a way in which he doesn’t appear to be on all sides of the issue? Can he explain why, if he’s blaming Obama on not fixing the economy in 3 years, why he insists it will take him two terms to fix it if he’s elected? Can he explain Medicare and Social Security such that it doesn’t scare the bejesus out of seniors? Personally I think the answer to all these questions is “no, he can’t,” but if he somehow finds a way to do so, it would change the game.
5. Obama could just flat-out screw something up. Obama is not gaffe-free, which is a factor people tend to forget since Romney is a gaffe machine.
But now, after the above five factors are giving Obama voters nightmares, here is the good news: none of the above is likely to happen.
The President knows what’s at stake, and he’s unlikely to seriously misstep. But even if he does, Mr. Romney has had week after week of bad news, and it may well be the case that voters no longer consider him a credible messenger, to the extent that no matter what he says and does, voters could respond with “that makes sense – too bad that guy is full of crap.”
Mitt Romney has invested the last eight years showing voters that he’s still not quite ready for prime time. His history shows that he probably doesn’t have the sheer talent to press the reset button on all those years with one good night this Wednesday.
And that assumption by voters makes it a little more likely that he’ll be able to do it. But only a little.
Here’s the TV schedule this week: I’ll be on Fox News in Austin tomorrow night at 9 pm with a debate preview. Then on Austin’s YNN Wednesday, I’ll be on both before and after the debate with predictions and analysis. And, as always, I’ll be on YNN’s Capital Tonight Thursday night at 7 pm with the whole wrap-up, plus discussion about Jay Root’s new book about Rick Perry.
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