The Cult of Bipartisanship

Here are the Google News results for searches related to most the major legislation Democrats will move on during the first 100 hours:All other initiatives that Democrats plan to focus on over the next two weeks receive far less hits on Google News than the ones listed here. Clearly, within the established media, the "issue" of bipartisanship is by far the top "issue" for the incoming congress.

Does it strike anyone else as strange that the hottest news topic in relation to the new Congress is whether or not it will be "bi-partisan?" If, rather than any specific piece of legislation, bipartisanship itself becomes the main for discussion, then does bipartisanship have any value left? After all, what is the value of bi-partisanship if not to better work on issues of importance to the American people? At what point did bi-partisanship become valuable for its own sake?

I think there are two causes for the media obsession with "bipartisanship" now that Democrats have taken Congress. The first, and most obvious, is simply an extension of the post-election narrative of a "conservative" (or at least moderate) victory that serves to undercut Democrats and progressive at every turn. The media has set the clear expectation that Democratic should be judged by the degree to which they are able to reduce partisan rancor, based on the utterly false notion that the Democratic electoral victory in November was actually somehow a mandate for bipartisanship rather than, say, Democrats (Democrats didn't actually win--bipartisanship did!). Of course, looking at the three open-ended polls conducted on national priorities since the election, increasing bipartisanship in Washington never once registers at even one percent. Despite the media trying to set it up as such, bipartisanship is clearly not on the mind of the American people.

The second reason is the escalating myth of a lost, idyllic bi-partisan era. It would appear that every era prior to our own was a blessed, golden time when the country was awash in a politics of unity and purpose. Now, I'm not sure when this era actually took place--perhaps it was when city machines and southern Democrats regularly resorted to violence, including murder, in order to defeat opponents from an opposing party--but the eulogizing of Gerald Ford over the past week only served to build upon the lore surrounding its existence. Basically, this is a new conservative myth, held by Republicans and LieberDems alike, detailing one more way that things were better back in the day, and why the future looks so bleak unless we revive the forgotten values of the past. It is, in a sense, like a cult of personality, but instead a cult around a mythical virtue: the cult of bipartisanship.

Perhaps this will all dissipate over the next two weeks as Democrats begin to move into meatier legislation, including a looming, Murtha-led funding fight over Iraq. However, I am not very hopeful. I think the cult of the lost era of bipartisanship is here to stay, especially as nearly every Democratic leader at least continues to pay lip service to it.

Update: Sirota has a good addition to this discussion.

Tags: Media, polls (all tags)

Comments

49 Comments

A cult, yes - but don't knock it!

Chris is absolutely right to finger bipartisanship as a phoney.

It's a useful fantasy, like the Anglo-American special relationship. You can't say it's a nullity, because the fantasy begets real-world consequences.

But, as defined or assumed, it's void of substance.

(Of course, there are Congressional rules, which are (colorably) observed by both parties. But then, there are rules in baseball; and a Yankees v Red Sox game seldom generates much spirit of bi-team-ship, that I know of.)

As a marketing gimmick, on the other hand, it's a concept well worthy of study: fence-sitters like the Post and the Times just lurve them some bipartisan action, and affect to disdain (some) partisan manoeuvering and saucy shenanigans (especially when they were performed by Dems, once in a blue moon).

There's no reason why the Dems should not be alert to the possibilities of the gimmick, while strictly observing the reality of the thing as a pile of poo.

by skeptic06 2007-01-04 10:52AM | 0 recs
There's decorum and there's competition

The players in a baseball game might not play with a spirit of bi-teamship, but a good contest will have the players playing with a sense of sportsmanship:  a respect for the rules, for their opponents, and for the game.  None of which negates the sense of competition amongst the players.

Similarly, the Democrats should respect the rules of Congress, respect their opponents, and the Constitution, but do everything they can to advance a progressive agenda within these constraints.  They should be the opposite of the Gingrich House.

(I know this is basically what you were saying, I just wanted to extend that metaphor a bit)

by Valatan 2007-01-04 11:48AM | 0 recs
Why the double standard?

When Republicans rule Congress, Democrats are ruthlessly shut out. Now that Republicans are the minority we start hearing all this "hold hands and sing Kumbaya" crap. I agree with the post below: Dems' response should be "Go fuck yourself." At least until Republicans move back to the center from the extreme quasi-fascist right wing they now inhabit. "Bipartisanship" seems to mean Dems cave to Republican policies that are opposed my most Americans rather than Republicans caving to the will of the voters as expressed in the last election. Fuck that nonsense.

by miasmo 2007-01-04 11:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Why the double standard?

I think that you're missing my point.  Give them no quarter in policy.  Don't back down to them at all.

But do so professionally.  Don't act like the stupid junkyard dogs that the 1994 Republicans exemplified.  Don't trample on the rules. Don't manipulate electoral districts.  

There's decorum, and there's policy.  They're unrelated.

by Valatan 2007-01-04 02:03PM | 0 recs
Nobody went to the polls and voted for ...

... bipartisanship. They voted for the Democrats.

The Democrats have a mandate, and it's not to worry about bipartisanship. If there are Republicans who want to do the right thing, great. Those who don't will have to be forced out of the way.

by MeanBoneII 2007-01-04 10:56AM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

When Democrats are asked about partisanship, the response should be a simple "go fuck yourself."

How long would it take the media to get it?

by markoc 2007-01-04 11:03AM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

Tossing the term "bipartisan" around sounds lofty and obscures the fact of who each side's constituency is.

In the abstract, it sounds like your good people against my good people, and since we're all Americans shouldn't there be more than one brand of populism?

When you actually are populist, and you're advocating for normal people who did the one-person, one-vote thing and told the candidate, "this is what my family needs and my community needs," you'd be happy to slug it out politely with someone who was advocating for a similar constituency, i.e., normal citizens / taxpayers / voters... who just happen to feel differently on Issue X. (For example, Fresno fruit growers feeling differently about Mexican immigration than, say, a welder in North Dakota)

But when you've decided that your constituency is corporations, defense contractors, big pharma, the chamber of commerce, major polluters, etc., you have no populist, reality-based rhetoric to offer. What you spew has to be Orwellian, Rovian, usually ad hominen catcrap.

Luckily it's DC. You've got media pals, you throw a good party, your corporate backing impresses people, you give out a blind "money quote" when needed, and for all that you're looked after.

And in the end we get fraudulent Bi-pi.

by ShagBark 2007-01-04 11:22AM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

I think you are right on target with one exception: The Republican Party does have a genuine grassroots constituency on cultural issues. While I strongly disagree with the Christianists, I respect their right to participate in the political process and fight for their positions. (Fortunately this group is a minority of the population.) On the other hand, the influence of the "corporations, defense contractors, big pharma, the chamber of commerce, major polluters, etc.", as you so aptly identify them, is basically corruption, bribery and subversion of democracy. I do not respect their participation in the political process and I don't believe it should be tolerated.

by miasmo 2007-01-04 12:08PM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

christianists also pervert democratic ideals too. they simply do it for different reasons.

by bruh21 2007-01-04 12:45PM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

I fully agree that their ideals are antithetical to the democratic process, but their participation in that process is not. I have no problem debating their ideals and defeating those ideals at the ballot box. That's what democracy is all about. It's not about giant corporations monopolizing information and buying our government. I think it's possible to respect your fellow citizen's right to participate in the political process even when you vehemently disagree with them.

by miasmo 2007-01-04 01:00PM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

if they win the debate, then there won't be anymore debates. that's why the christianists are no different thant he corporatists. they both muck up the process. not all ideals are equal, and not all of them need to be debated. i assume kkk members feel that they are right too. but i dont think we need to entertain their positions to say that somehow we live in a democracy.  i think a bottom where i find fault with your definition is that i think you are hinting at rule of the majority. whatever ideal wins out by majority vote is the way democracy works. that's incorrect when it comes to western democracies. there are ideals that go beyond whether one is able to convince the majority or not. i am starting to reall become nervous with how many ont he left make arguments similar tot he right because they think it shows democratic tendencies. in western culture democracy means several things- not just who wins the majority. if thats not what you mean, that's fine, but i see the danger of it in your language. thats why being bipartisan isn;'t always a good idea. as sirota said- if bipartisan means we agree to kick the old woman, steal her car and take her money, then thats still not a good,a nd its not something in my book that should be reduced to convincing a majority that kicking that woman is wrong.

by bruh21 2007-01-04 01:31PM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

The destruction of America will continue however the memes used will be shifted "leftwards".

The same "wimpyness" exhibited over the last six years continues in the refusal to investigate, impeach and incarcerate.

by Lasthorseman 2007-01-04 11:23AM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

Thanks for bringing attention to this attempt by the MSM to weaken the Democratic mandate.  Please keep it up!  Democratic leaders cannot cave in to Republican demands by pressure like this.  Fuck "bipartisanship".  If these anti-conservative traitors to our Constitution want to vote against Democratic intiatives, so be it.  History is definitely on our side.

by Matt in Costa Rica 2007-01-04 11:27AM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

Right on. I take excepton however to your labeling them "anti-conservative." Conservatism is all about more power for the powerful. These bastards are real conservatives and their recent reign demonstrates how much conservatism sucks.

by miasmo 2007-01-04 12:12PM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship
I think I  get what Matt was trying to say. Here's a quote from a recent Bill Moyers speech:
One story would return America to the days of radical laissez-faire, when there was no social contract and the strong took what they could and the weak were left to forage.
The other story joins the memory of struggles that have been waged with the possibility of victories yet to be won, including healthcare for every American and a living wage for every worker. Like the mustard seed to which Jesus compared the Kingdom of God, nurtured from small beginnings in a soil thirsty for new roots, our story has been a long time unfolding. It reminds us that the freedoms and rights we treasure were not sent from heaven and did not grow on trees.
They were, as John Powers has written, "born of centuries of struggle by untold millions who fought and bled and died to assure that the government can't just walk into our bedrooms and read our mail, to protect ordinary people from being overrun by massive corporations, to win a safety net against the often-cruel workings of the market, to guarantee that businessmen couldn't compel workers to work more than forty hours a week without extra compensation, to make us free to criticize our government without having our patriotism impugned, and to make sure that our leaders are answerable to the people when they choose to send our soldiers into war."
The eight-hour day, the minimum wage, the conservation of natural resources, free trade unions, old-age pensions, clean air and water, safe food--all these began with citizens and won the endorsement of the political class only after long struggles and bitter attacks. Democracy works when people claim it as their own.

We want to conserve the gains of those "centuries of struggle by untold millions who fought and bled and died" for the progressive successes we have today.
by johnalive 2007-01-04 05:03PM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

But conservatism as a political ideology has never had any desire to "conserve the gains of those "centuries of struggle by untold millions who fought and bled and died" for the progressive successes we have today." Let's start promoting the liberal label and stop giving conservatism credit it doesn't deserve.

by miasmo 2007-01-04 11:24PM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

Lets demand bipartisanship for our issues.

Reagan welcomed Democrats who voted for his tax cuts.  There will be some Republicans who cannot afford to vote against affordable health care, for example.

Bipartisanship is really about dividing and dominating one's opponents.  Lets make sure that we are setting the agenda and then we can have all the bipartisanship the Republicans can handle.

by Hellmut 2007-01-04 11:33AM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

bipartisanship defined as date rape where the victim  smiles and says thank you.

by bruh21 2007-01-04 11:35AM | 0 recs
Third cause:

The third cause, and probably the most important:

The "bipartisanship" meme is straight out of this week's GOP propaganda phrase book.

This is what the GOP is feeding the mainstream media. and as usual MSM is regurgitating word for word.

by upstate guy 2007-01-04 11:35AM | 0 recs
Re: Third cause:

Exactly. When they are in the majority, who gives a fuck about "bipartisanship." Now that they're in the minority it's all about the "bipartisanship." But somehow it's the job of Democrats to create the "bipartisanship." The corporate media have their own class-based interest in watering down as much as possible any Democratic victories for the economic interests of working Americans. It's no wonder they dutifully regurgitate this latest rightwing nonsense.

by miasmo 2007-01-04 12:19PM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

This is a really good post, but I have to take issue  with the notion that the American political scene has ALWAYS been this bitterly divided along partisan lines. To put this another way, I'm kind of troubled by this phrasing: "the escalating myth of a lost, idyllic bi-partisan era."

In fact, it used to be accepted wisdom among European observers of the American political scene that there was remarkably little difference between the two major U.S. parties -- at least in the realm of foreign relations, national defense, diplomacy, and a sense of America's place in the world. The series of transitions in party control of the White House from Truman (D) to Eisenhower (R) to Kennedy/Johnson (D) to Nixon/Ford (R) to Carter (D) were remarkable for the stability and continuity that prevailed in all these areas.

The transition from Carter to Reagan/Bush41 was a bit bumpier, but not nearly so much as we now tend to "recall." The American posture became more assertive, but due care was taken to preserve the important alliances and friendships and international institutions that had been so painstakingly built up. Similarly, the transition to Clinton was actually rather seamless, despite a lot of noise around tangential issues like gays in the military.

I guess I should emphasize again that I am talking about international relations, defense policy and the like, not U.S. domestic issues.

We forget all this now -- in fact, we consider it naive to believe it ever really happened -- because of how terribly wrong everything went in 2000. What the Bushites and their right-wing stormtroopers did was, in effect, to repudiate everything the United States had stood for -- everything we had BEEN -- on the world stage since the end of World War II. Of course, the partisan divide had been opening for many years already, at least since the Gingrich wing of the GOP seized control of Congress in 1994, and the Republican Party went into full attack mode. And it's impossible to think it will magically close anytime soon.

Nor should we wish it to, if "bipartisanship" means compromising on the core values upon which, once upon a time, most people in American could agree.

I close with a telling quotation from a Republican president:

"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid."

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1952

by wyneken 2007-01-04 11:44AM | 0 recs
Bipartisanship is a good thing

The Civil Rights Act would not have passed without the help of Everett Dirkson, the Republican leader. And why did he help? Because Johnson gave him farm subsidies that fueled the food stamp program.

Shirley Chisholm made more than deal one with Tobacco state crackers to get the social service bills she wanted for her Harlem constituencies.

Bill Clinton allied with Gingrich on Welfare Reform and NAFTA, both of which in my minority view here did more good than harm to both our party and our country. Regardless of how you feel--and I know how most feel--these were both examples of major legislation passed only through bipartisanship.

So I don't think bipartisanship is a myth. But this current crop of Republicans need to pounded into the ground like tent pegs before we'll see it again. Their choice of Lott to the leadership shows that they learned exactly jack shit from the election.

by stevehigh 2007-01-04 11:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Bipartisanship is a good thing

Very good points.  You can only have bi-partisanship around issues where there is consensus and with people who believe in working with others to accomplish common goals.  I see nothing in this group of Repubs that leads me to believe they think in that manner.  

I say if they want to work with us on our issues, welcome to the party but I see no reason to go out of our way to reach out to the Repubs.  We won the election and to the victors go the spoils.

by John Mills 2007-01-04 12:20PM | 0 recs
They need to act like they lost

Otherwise, we haven't won yet.

Payback.

by stevehigh 2007-01-04 04:22PM | 0 recs
Re: They need to act like they lost

Agreed!

by John Mills 2007-01-04 06:29PM | 0 recs
1994?

I sure as hell don't remember any such concern about Newt Gingrich's potential partisanship although he displayed more on a good day than did Nancy Pelosi while they held the same job.

I am a believer in centrism and bipartisanship. But we won't have it until the GOP stops voting party line, expresses remorse for their inexcusable treatment of both Clinton and the Democratic minority, and, in fact, squeals like a pig.

Payback is a motherfucker.

by stevehigh 2007-01-04 11:44AM | 0 recs
In defense of the word bipartisanship

I agree with most here that we're in no mood to let the losers define the debate.

However, can't we win by playing from the other side's playbook: find a few turncoats who will vote our way (Senator Collins, pick up the white courtesy phone), ram our agenda through, and call it bipartisan.  Any Republicans who whine are shrill obstructionists.

by freedc 2007-01-04 11:49AM | 0 recs
Re: In defense of the word bipartisanship

I agree- you should identify, contact and convince them to do it.

by bruh21 2007-01-04 11:57AM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

Bipartisanship:

This is a paternalistic, PATRICIAN, top down 'virtue.'

When we hear tall tales of the virtues of this, it comes off as a lecture to us unwashed swine on how powerful people come together to give us our medicine good n' proper.

by KingElvis 2007-01-04 11:53AM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

The Republicans are free to stop acting like dicks whenver they want. They can start by denouncing the calls by their radio mouthpieces for the assassination of our party's leaders.

What have they offered by way of bipartisanship besides a willingness to have us capitulate to them, and give them the means to shut the Congress down until 2008? Fuck that. If they want to reach across the aisle and help us do the work of the American people, they can vote with us on the minimum wage, the 9/11 Commission recommendations, and new ethics guidelines rather than throwing grenades and gumming up the system.

by Memekiller 2007-01-04 11:53AM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

Did any of you guys consider the upcoming stem cell legislation when you were mocking bi-partisanship. The only way to overrride Bush's veto on an issue that the Democratic leadership has identified as one of the most important goals of the 110th Congress is to work with moderate Republicans. Anything who knows anything about legislative history understands that Congress is run by pragmatic deal makers, not knee jerk partisans.

by cravecase 2007-01-04 12:00PM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

Good points about how Congress is run.  However, generally the President reaches out to the new majority after this type of defeat to establish bi-partisanship, not the other way around.  See Clinton circa 1994/95 or Reagan circa 1986/87.  

by John Mills 2007-01-04 12:31PM | 0 recs
anyone with a brain who has been

paying attention to today's republican party knows that this line of yours is filled with crap. you expect me to hold my breath and wait for republicans to compromise? on stem cell research or any other verboten by the Chimp-King topic? ahem. i don't think so.

there is wishful thinking. there is "speaking to (insert supernatural being here)." and then there is a critical appraisal of history, the facts, and the public record. i'd loooooove to believe that republicans are chastened by the election, humbled, ready to work again with their peers across the aisle.

but i'm not that stupid.

by chicago dyke 2007-01-04 12:41PM | 0 recs
Re: anyone with a brain who has been

I think the point is that it is moderate Republicans who need to join with Democrats and not the other way around. Stem cell research is a good example of an issue where the majority of the country is with Democrats. I can't think of any issues where Republicans have majority public support. There is no reason for Democrats to compromise with Republicans, but Republicans do have reason to join with democrats on many issues if they don't want to get voted out of office.

by miasmo 2007-01-04 01:06PM | 0 recs
Re: anyone with a brain who has been

and yet in the senate one republican is threatening to fillabuster. how is that being bipartisan. the forumlation of bipartisan often seems to mean democrats must bend over backwards fort he right, rather than mutual accomadation.

by bruh21 2007-01-04 01:34PM | 0 recs
At least NPR's moved on

I've had NPR on in the background all day, and I did hear "bipartisanship" a few times, but what I heard a few dozen times was that Nancy Pelosi is... get this... a woman!  A female woman!  With breasts!  I have no idea if Congress actually did anything today, but I do know that the woman who was elected the first woman speaker is, in fact, a woman.

So, they're still only doing one story, and it's still the wrong story, but at least they've moved on from bipartisanship.

by schroeder 2007-01-04 12:20PM | 0 recs
Re: At least NPR's moved on

Braver than I, my friend-

I can no longer regularly listen to their drivel-

Renee, Melissa, Nina, Cokie, Mara and that gerl Inskeep are truly the worst media heathers this century has to offer, to date-

The worst, every AM, consistently,  hands down-

by RF 2007-01-04 01:22PM | 0 recs
Re: At least NPR's moved on

One day of history is too many?

220 years. Highest elective office ever held by a woman.

It's not about her physical attributes. It's about gender roles.

by demondeac 2007-01-04 06:49PM | 0 recs
Re: At least NPR's moved on

I'm not denying the significance of the moment; I'm just fed up with the media's inability to talk about two things in the same day.  

by schroeder 2007-01-08 10:43AM | 0 recs
you want media bias?

1.3 million for 'bipartisan democrats' and just because you know, they're even more interested in that noble orientation, 1.4 million for 'bipartisan republicans. clearly it's the most important issue in america today!!

gack. no wonder the gang of 500 thinks they're so important. google tells them so. and sadly, as the media is the measure of national discourse, they're right. wing, that is.

by chicago dyke 2007-01-04 12:26PM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

There is a solution for the less than timid among us.  Don't re-elect the sons of bitches if they don't do what we elected them to do.  Just letting them know that,  may have an effect.  We have one weapon,  our votes and now is the time to use that weapon to advance the cause.

They should start with "pull the troops out and end the war now."  Let Bush veto that and if we're still in Iraq in 08 we will have a weapon to hammer them with.  Bush's veto.

by jd2 2007-01-04 12:30PM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

The Google News results are so typical of how the media covers politics.  They'd rather focus on the "game" than on actually have to understand policies and policy positions.  It helps keep the electorate stupid and docile.

Personally, I don't give a hoot about partisanship or bi-partisanship.  I care about the leglistation being considered and oversight.  But that's too hard for reporters to actually cover.  Much easier to write about sniping between parties.

by mlr701 2007-01-04 12:53PM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

A google news search also showed 28.477 hits for Democratic congress.

by David Kowalski 2007-01-04 01:10PM | 0 recs
No... There is only one cause-

I think there are two causes for the media obsession with "bipartisanship" now that Democrats have taken Congress.

Fear-

Well,,,  abject fear, but it is fear driving their course, and one thing I can guarantee the dems, as well as every viewing American can smell is fear, and right now, after watching a bit of the domesticated media outlets today, I need to lite a candle, or incense, or sticky budd, if I had any, or something cause it is all I can smell, and I am not the least bit afraid-

They are-

Just like when Brian Williams did Jon Stewart's show for the first time---  G he nearly peed right there on the set-

Smells just like that-

by RF 2007-01-04 01:13PM | 0 recs
Re: The Republicans are sore losers

Man, are these people whiney and sore losers. I noticed Alcee Hastings already got Drier's goat with a comment about how the Rs are having a hard adjustment to not going last. Drier shot back a comment that the Dems shouldn't get too comfortable.

Then with Barney Frank presiding over the House, Drier tried to ignore the Speaker and just talk to Hastings. Frank cut him off with a remark that the "Speaker is feeling ignored, address the Speaker".
Priceless.

by phillydem 2007-01-04 01:55PM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

"At what point did bi-partisanship become valuable for its own sake?"

At about 9PM EST on 07-Nov-2006.

by gak 2007-01-04 02:30PM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

I like you.

by bruh21 2007-01-04 02:41PM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

the concept of bi-partisanship has got to be the ultimate ruse.democracy is not based on 2 (Two) points of view. democracy exists in the realm of free thought  and the GOP ie g.w. bush ,seems to think that the world  accepts his version of democracy or a bi-partisan version thereof.well, the world is not full of uneducated people like his blind-sighted backers, and the damage he's caused with short sited policy and unilateral foreign initiative will be hard to reverse . democracy lives in the hearts of people , and the american political landscape leaves little room for true democracy. the war is not over , as g.w. stated with pride in 2003 and the world is NOT safer since he invaded iraq. and that's a fact.

by plord 2007-01-06 05:30PM | 0 recs
Re: The Cult of Bipartisanship

a two party state is not a democracy

by plord 2007-01-06 05:52PM | 0 recs

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