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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Feminist Case Against Hillary Clinton

posted by on December 11 at 12:06 PM

Ever since ECB’s smart feature about women voters & Hillary Clinton, I’ve been stuck on this heretical thought.

Maybe there’s a feminist reason for not supporting Hillary Clinton—and it doesn’t have a thing to do with the issues. It’s HRC herself. Do we really want the first female president of the United States to have been invited to the national stage not because of her individual achievements but because of the person she’s married to? The difference between a female senator being appointed after the death of her elected husband and HRC’s situation is slight. How many people plan to vote for Hillary just because Bill can’t be president anymore, and this is the next best thing? And how depressing is that?

I didn’t have any concrete notion of the answer to this question until I read the most recent New York Times/CBS poll, which found that “nearly as many of Mrs. Clinton’s backers say they are supporting her because of her husband as say they are supporting her because of her own experience”.

The hard numbers are even more distressing. Likely Democratic primary voters were asked why they support the candidate they support: “married to Bill Clinton” is the second most popular reason.

22. What specifically is it about CANDIDATE NAME that makes you want to support him/her?

I like him/her 4
Best candidate for the job 1
Agree on the issues 9
Represents change 8
Good experience 16
Vision for the country 3
Honesty/integrity/trustworthy 5
Shares values 1
Not typical politician 1
Cares about people like me 2
Smart/intelligent 6
New person/fresh face 10
Washington outsider –-
Electability –-
Married to Bill Clinton 13
Stance on Iraq War 3
Will bring troops home from Iraq -–
Stance on terrorism -–
Stance on health care 2
She’s a woman/time for a woman 4
He’s African American/Time for that 2
Strong leader -–
Other 3

It’s worth noting that the first most popular reason for supporting a given candidate (experience) often undoubtedly translates into HRC’s time in the White House as First Lady—an occupation that, should a girl actively aspire to it, is no more productive a career goal than marrying rich.

As a candidate, I like Hillary Clinton fine, though I prefer Barack Obama. But the idea of supporting a candidate whom most people like primarily because she’s married to someone they love—the whole thing just makes me queasy.

RSS icon Comments


Do we really want the first female president of the United States to have been invited to the national stage not because of her individual achievements but because of the person she’s married to?

that will not be the reason she is president. besides, those voters are countered by the voters who still will just not vote for a woman.

if she wins, she will win because she's qualified, and because she ran the gauntlet best.

Posted by infrequent | December 11, 2007 12:15 PM

I'd love to vote for a woman, but I'd really like to get the Clinton name out of the white house. I love Bill to pieces, but it is time to move on with some fresh blood.

Posted by rubyred | December 11, 2007 12:15 PM

but it makes me a little queasy, too.

Posted by infrequent | December 11, 2007 12:16 PM

America's Eva Peron. How fitting.

Posted by Fnarf | December 11, 2007 12:16 PM

her whole candidacy is so anti-feminist it's embarrassing. marrying her way into the whitehouse, trolling for votes based on her ownership of a vagina, being married to bill clinton... it's a step back for women, not forward.

Posted by brandon | December 11, 2007 12:22 PM

Yeah, when Bill Clinton was potius thing really, really sucked. It was awful - no war, great economy, balanced budget. People are just stupid to want that again.

Posted by crazycatguy | December 11, 2007 12:26 PM

people aren't stupid for wanting that, but they are extremely stupid - possibly retarded - for assuming that another clinton presidency will bring those changes about.

and what's the assumption behind that - that hillary is just bill's puppet? hmmm...

Posted by brandon | December 11, 2007 12:29 PM

Its valid to consider feminist arguements not to vote for Clinton, but you haven't made a strong case here. So some people in a poll said they were voting for her because they liked her husband. This point doesn't capture the complexity of the phenomena that is HRC.

I wish people would take a closer look at HRC's career. She's pushed for many feminists objectives in a way that can be integrated into the mainstream dialogue of American life. I realize progressives aren't happy that she compromises with the right, but that's politics.

Posted by gavingourley | December 11, 2007 12:30 PM

@7. i prefer to think that all this time bill has been hillary's puppet.

Posted by infrequent | December 11, 2007 12:34 PM

HRC is much smarter than Evita. The reason she is not more famous than her husband is because the Rep machine crushed her when she became first lady and they felt she was too "uppity". She is a smart lady, and has tons of accomplishments including becoming one of the more powerful voices in the senate as well as taking a senate seat which Giuliani felt was his birth right. To be honest,there is really not going to be much difference between her and Obama. Theyre both centrist democrats. As far as women's rights, the Bush supreme court will destroy those in the coming years.

I think Edwards is the least centrist of the two.

Posted by SeMe | December 11, 2007 12:35 PM

Hillary is a highly intelligent and accomplished woman with or without Bill; in fact, if she hadn't been first lady throughout the 90s, I bet we would have seen her if office far sooner.

They are a couple with similar ambitions. I have no problem with that whatsoever. I call it a smart marriage. They're both power players and they seem like equals in their relationship-- which is pretty impressive considering he was the president. Give me that kind of marriage any day over the Laura Bush's simpering, "Don't ask me, I'm just a girl!" attitude. What should make you queasy is the thought of having another marriage like that in the White House (this would be from the Republicans, of course; all the Dems seem to have pretty kick-ass spouses, at least the front runners. Though the Kucinich's marriage still creeps me out).

Posted by exelizabeth | December 11, 2007 12:39 PM

I agree, Annie. Condi should be President.

Posted by Mr. Poe | December 11, 2007 12:44 PM

how many people voted for George Bush Jr. just because his father was president? i bet a whole lotta folk.

Posted by jonasbrothers | December 11, 2007 12:49 PM
It’s worth noting that the first most popular reason for supporting a given candidate (experience) often undoubtedly translates into HRC’s time in the White House as First Lady

Um, Clinton has been a senator for 6 years. Obama has been a senator for 2 years. Do you count being male as having experience, as many bosses do? What would people say if Clinton had Obama's resume? She'd be laughed out of her candidacy.

Posted by jamier | December 11, 2007 12:52 PM

It's okay to be a feminist and not vote for Hillary, but this seems to me like rationalization than an actual argument.

You've basically started with: I don't want to vote for Hillary. What can I do that prove that voting for Hillary is anti-feminist. Oh, how about this?

Like I said, vote for her, don't vote for her, you don't have to rationalize it to me. But don't equate rationalization with a valid argument.

Posted by arduous | December 11, 2007 12:56 PM

I'll just point out that when someone says a reason to vote for Hillary is because she's "Married to Bill Clinton", this can mean several things that are neither pro- nor anti-feminist. Like the fact that Bill had a well oiled political machine with demonstrated victories that she can (and has) tapped into. And that he would be an excellent "ambassador at large" to the world- and GOD knows we need to some major 'splainin' to our friends around the world.

Posted by Big Sven | December 11, 2007 12:57 PM

I'm surprised you've got nothing on Ron Paul, whose even for legalizing marijuana.

Posted by dan brown | December 11, 2007 12:57 PM

This argument tends to hair-splitting. Can a housewife be a feminist? If so it shouldn't matter if her husband is rich or not. Trying to equate being a First Lady with simply wanting to marry rich is a specious argument, they don't equal one another. Do married rich women have more access to power than poor married women? Of course they do, but is one closer to a feminist ideal than the other? Not unless you apply points for poverty. HRC always had her own career outside of Bill's. She also managed to raise a daughter who has become fairly successful in her own right academically and in her chosen field of endeavor. HRC is a career woman, wife, and mother, whose husband is also successful. What more does she need to do meet the feminist standard?
You are eating your own young Annie.

Posted by inkweary | December 11, 2007 12:58 PM

I in no way agree that Hillary is not qualified to be president on her own "individual achievements" (and it's not her fault if some people are voting for her for the "wrong" reason)....but assuming for the sake of argument that she isn't, how long are you willing to wait for a woman to be elected president on her own merits? I mean, do you think that will happen anytime soon? Maybe around the time women achieve equal pay?

Are you letting the perfect be the enemy of the good here?

Posted by David | December 11, 2007 12:58 PM

This is the fallacy of assuming that if stupid people agree with your position, your position must be stupid.

Posted by Greg | December 11, 2007 1:00 PM

yes, in some counterfactual universe, hillary probably beat bill to the presidency. but in the world we all live in, the only reason anyone knows her name is because she was married to the president for 8 years, which she then leveraged to get a seat in the senate. that anyone can fashion a pro-feminist argument for her based on such credentials is rather alarming.

what’s worse, when you have people like maya angelou and barbra streisand shilling for her, and the top credentials they cite are based on her gender, anyone who considers themselves a feminist should be horrified. you can’t say gender doesn’t matter, except when it does.

Posted by brandon | December 11, 2007 1:02 PM

I haven't bothered to think in a lot of depth about the candidates yet, partially because I'll support whichever Democrat gets the nomination. But whenever I've had a discussion about Hillary, my complaint has been that I'd prefer if the first female president wasn't the wife of a former president.

Doesn't mean I won't vote for her. Just my gut reaction from the beginning.

Posted by leek | December 11, 2007 1:19 PM

These are valid points on Hillary Clinton, as there are many women more qualified than her for the presidency. If the first woman president is not very successful, her failures will be used by chauvanists to keep women out of the White House for another century. Feminists should look very critically at Senator Clinton.

Posted by Sheldon | December 11, 2007 1:23 PM

Brandon: I guess Hillary Clinton should have had equal life experience as Bill Clinton.

Oh wait, Bill's college didn't allow women to attend until Hillary was 23. Bill Clinton won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford in 1968 -- Rhodes Scholarships were a male-only award until 1977. When Bill was elected as governor, there had been only 6 female governors in the entire history of the United States.

It seems to me that Bill Clinton had a hell of a lot more advantages by being male than Hillary got by marrying him.

Posted by jamier | December 11, 2007 1:23 PM

OK, I clearly need to clarify.

Is Hillary an anti-feminist? Is she running an anti-feminist campaign? Of course not. However, she's using everything at her disposal to put herself ahead--as she should, it's a political campaign--and one of those things is her relationship to Bill Clinton. If she wins, it will not be exclusively because she was First Lady any more than it will be exclusively because of her record in the Senate. But she wouldn't have been elected had either of these factors been absent.

I don't think it's stupid to support Hillary Clinton, and I think she's fully qualified to be president--I think everyone running is qualified except perhaps Paul, Tancredo, and Kucinich. I simply think it would be sad if the first female president of the United States was previously First Lady, and it's definitely sad that that's a proven factor in people's support for her candidacy.

My reasons for preferring Obama, by the way, are completely separate from this issue--no one should not vote for Hillary exclusively because of this unfortunate historical alignment. Furthermore, I will absolutely vote for Hillary if she wins the nomination.

Posted by annie | December 11, 2007 1:25 PM

Rhodes Scholarships were male-only until 1977? Holy shit. I don't know why that's so shocking to me (of all the historical inequalities, why that one), but, wow.

Posted by Julie | December 11, 2007 1:36 PM

Annie, let's put it this way:

Whoever wins will have used everything at their disposal to put themselves ahead. That's just how it is. So let it be written, so let it be done.

Posted by Mr. Poe | December 11, 2007 1:39 PM

hey, i'm not dissing hillary for not having the same advantages as bill. what i'm saying is simply that all the feminist arguments being made in hillary's favor aren't very feminist. quite the opposite, in fact.

if she's done stuff to advance women's rights, then by all means, cite those things. but don't just say she's "my girl", or that you want to be able to say "madame president." that's just insulting.

full confession: i don't like her. i want to, but i don't. and it has nothing to do with her gender and everything to do with her going on national television and lying, making her husband's apologists [among whom i counted myself at the time] look like a bunch of fools. i don't forget these things.

Posted by brandon | December 11, 2007 1:43 PM

Brandon's grasp of feminism is weak, in my opinion.

This conversation reminds me that quote about Ginger Rogers, about how she was as good a dancer as Fred Astaire, except she danced backwards and in high heels.

Posted by gavingourley | December 11, 2007 1:57 PM

Annie, I would really like an article along these lines to be in the paper itself.

Posted by Graham | December 11, 2007 1:59 PM

the 2 feminists i live with cite these 2 reasons for supporting hillary:
1. she's a woman.
2. she's married to bill clinton.

when i say that a black man in the white house is also a step forward, i get:
1. he's not experienced enough.
2. he's not that black.
3. women have been an oppressed minority longer than blacks.

when i point out that they're NOT a minority, the conversation stops.

that said, i could give a shit who is president as long as its not a fucking republican. nothing essential changes.

Posted by max solomon | December 11, 2007 2:03 PM

If she's not anti-feminist, and not running an anti-feminist campaign, and she's "fully qualified to be president," then what on earth is "the feminist case against Hillary Clinton"?

Any data on whether the elections of, say, Benazir Bhutto and Indira Gandhi set back women's rights in their respective countries?

Posted by David | December 11, 2007 2:03 PM

hey, i'm a guy. naturally my grasp of feminism is weak. i've been reading slog for a while, so i'm well aware of this fact.

but how about this - instead of just saying that, how about *explaining* exactly how weak my grasp of feminism is? i'd honestly like to know.

Posted by brandon | December 11, 2007 2:06 PM

I think what you're missing is WHY someone would support someone because they are married to fmr Pres. Bill Clinton.

How many woman got behind Hilary after seeing her deal with her husbands cheating in front of the nation? How many people see her marriage as an indicator of her strength and fortitude?

Posted by Joshua | December 11, 2007 2:08 PM

I'm pretty happy with either Obama or Clinton. I'll enthusiastically support either one in the general. I'm wary of Clinton more because of the political dynasty thing than because of any issues with her experience or positions. I'm wary of Obama because of that slap in the face he delivered to the gays. But these warries don't tarry long, and I'll merrily watch either bury the Republican nominee.

Posted by josef | December 11, 2007 2:22 PM

I agree with Josef, I actually like all the Dem candidates. Not so keen on Biden, but he's still better than any of the Reds. But I'm really excited about all the qualified potential VP choices for President Obama to choose from! Including Dodd, who is fun, and Richardson.

Posted by Will in Seattle | December 11, 2007 2:28 PM

You claimed that her "whole candidacy is so anti-feminist it's embarrassing" but the examples you cited were:

"marrying her way into the whitehouse, trolling for votes based on her ownership of a vagina"


"the only reason anyone knows her name is because she was married to the president for 8 years, which she then leveraged to get a seat in the senate"

According to you, an anti-feminist is someone who uses sex for advantage, either directly or indirectly. Anti-feminists are people who would deny autonomy to a woman based upon her sex. Hillary can hardly be described as someone who lacks autonomy.

You also said "you can’t say gender doesn’t matter, except when it does." To be honest, I don't think you know what you're talking about, but it sounds like you are saying that feminists believe that gender isn't important*. Quite the opposite.

Take pregnancy for example. If feminists thought gender wasn't important then they would expect to give birth to a child without missing a single day of a regular 9-5 work schedule. Not so. Feminists do seek allowances from society to accomodate gender differences without sacrificing autonomy.

*I'll leave the gender/sex discussion for another time.

Posted by gavingourley | December 11, 2007 2:34 PM

You forget that being married to Bill is very much a double edged sword.

Yes, it helps with the name recognition thing. And yes, Bill Clinton was pretty popular.

However, there are a lot of negatives tied to that association as well. There are a LOT of people out there who WON'T vote for her because she's married to Bill. The Clintons (both of them) are absolutely red meat to the blathering right wing.

On balance, I'm not convinced that being married to Bill is an entirely positive thing. It helps with one block of voters, and hurts with another.

Posted by SDA in SEA | December 11, 2007 2:43 PM

feminism, as i was taught: gender doesn’t matter, and our goal should be a society that transcends it.

if you want to say she’s the best candidate because she’s a woman – and i'm not leveling this charge at anyone here, but many of her supporters make this argument - then you’re also saying “gender matters”. If those are the rules you want to play by, then fine. but don’t get upset when someone makes the case that she *can’t* be president because she’s a woman. for those at home keeping score, this argument is equally valid if “gender matters” is one of your premises.

what i am saying is – screw her gender, what does her record show? everybody says it speaks for itself. apparently so much so that no one cares to actually cite it. well fuck me for valuing a candidate based on their record and not the presence or absence of a vagina. if that makes me sexist, i accept the title with honor.

so this is what i mean when i say anti-feminist. i stand by it.

Posted by brandon | December 11, 2007 2:48 PM

Am I the only one who finds it hilarious that 2% people answered that they support HRC "because he's african american, and it's time for that?"

Posted by jkjk | December 11, 2007 2:48 PM

The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof expressed the same concern Annie has in an excellent column back in June.

There is one important counterargument — raised, perhaps not surprisingly, by my wife. It is that if our aim is to open up the political system and broaden opportunity, then what better way than to elect a woman?

It’s true that the election of a first woman (or black or Hispanic) might well nourish the American political system, just as the election of John Kennedy as the first Catholic did in 1960. But, as in Argentina or Bangladesh, the election of a first woman loses much of its significance if she has enjoyed a political shortcut as a predecessor’s wife.

I can think of one sadder commentary on this nation than the prospect that we will have gotten our first female president by the Eva Peron route. And that is that we're talking about meta crap like this more than we are about real issues.

I'd been an Obama supporter, but now I'm leaning toward Clinton if only because her health-care plan comes with a mandate. Maybe by the time Washington's {primary/caucus/straw poll/beauty pageant} rolls around, I'll end up voting for Obama or Edwards. As others have noted, it won't be hard for me to get behind the eventual nominee, whoever it is.

Posted by cressona | December 11, 2007 2:54 PM

@38 SDA in SEA

Saying that Hillary would "galvanize the Republican base" is a Republican talking point, and as such serves their interests. We know that all their talking points are calculated, so what are they trying to achieve?

Well, taken at face value it would discourage Democrats from selecting Clinton. Why would the Republicans want to do that? Easy. They don't want to face Clinton, who has withstood 16 years of attacks from the Republican machine. They'd rather face Obama, who has only two years of experience in Washington and is black.

Posted by gavingourley | December 11, 2007 2:59 PM

Honestly I just don't think that our Founding Fathers(TM) would like something like this....

A former President being back in the house by way of spouse.

Then again, they didn't write in term limits. And they could have never imagined a woman in power. So whatever

Posted by Lake | December 11, 2007 3:03 PM


You're saying that its anti-feminist for women to vote for women because they're women.

In a perfect world, we could select candidates purely because of their record, but there's a big difference between the values and ideals we aspire to and strategies and tactics we pursue to bring them to life. If women didn't band together, do you think they'd even be able to vote?

Posted by gavingourley | December 11, 2007 3:23 PM

@41: Thanks. I'd read that column, but forgotten about it.

Oddly--because I'm all for "socialized medicine"--I like Obama's health plan better. The fact that it's not mandatory means it has a better chance of passing Congress. And the fact that it's not mandatory means there will be political will to push further toward true national health care after it's in place. Everything about this election has me thinking in paradoxes.

Posted by annie | December 11, 2007 3:36 PM

no, i'm saying it's anti-feminist to argue for the legitimacy of a candidate based entirely upon their gender. it flies in the face of everything i've been taught about feminism and gender politics.

let's not forget, we're talking about the most powerful position in the world. to make your selection based entirely upon the candidate's novelty, while casting aside their record, or their extremely shady past [and, well, present] just somehow doesn't seem like a very good idea to me.

hey, i agree that it would be a big step for our country to have a female president. i think we're beyond ready for it. but making the case for her based entirely on her gender, while not even pausing to consider her record is icky. to me, at least.

Posted by brandon | December 11, 2007 3:38 PM

Brandon, all feminism shit is based solely on gender. The female gender.

Yeah I said it.

Posted by Mr. Poe | December 11, 2007 4:10 PM

Annie @41, great comment. I think you just put me tentatively back in the Obama camp with that comment alone. Call me easily swayed.

Speaking of New York Times columnists, it was Paul Krugman's Nov. 30 column on the lack of a mandate in the Obama health-care plan that really freaked me out. He followed it up with another column Friday.

Then last night I got to reading a response to Krugman by David Cutler, Obama's health-care adviser. I didn't necessarily agree with it, but it came across as sensible enough. Sorry, can't find the link now. Now Annie, as you say, when you throw in the politics of it all, we may very well have a better chance of achieving a health-care mandate by not immediately pushing for a health-care mandate.

Just to add a little perspective here, and forgive me for going even further off-topic…

It absolutely makes some Hillary supporters' skin crawl any time anyone tries to compare Obama to his fellow inexperienced Illinois legislator Abraham Lincoln. But in 1860, Abraham Lincoln did not campaign for president as an abolitionist; he campaigned as a moderate who would seek a kind of truce with the South. If Lincoln had campaigned as an abolitionist, who knows how much longer it would have taken for the forces of history to get around to freeing the slaves?

Posted by cressona | December 11, 2007 4:16 PM

Oops, I meant Annie @45.

Posted by cressona | December 11, 2007 4:17 PM

People might be supporting HRC because
1) she is married to bill therefore has similar views to bill
2) they trust her on the important stuff (as they trusted bill on the important stuff).

this is different than electing her because of the fact of her marriage.

self disclosure: I would prefer the class awareness of Edwards or the anti war stance of Richardson but will support HRC. over Obama due to his inexperience, health plan ( I trust krugman) and his incompetence regarding gay issues. I like that HRC plays hardball with opponents. The republicans are not going to roll over and play dead after the election.

Posted by MSW | December 11, 2007 5:14 PM

Ok, WTF. You think that because she was married to the prez that she is somehow anti-feminist? What about McCain divoring his first wife to marry to a richer woman who was politically connected?

Also, HRC was well on the route to being a politician, and didnt "get into the senate" because of Bill. She graduated top of Wesley College, worked as a TOP LAWYER during the bill presidency, was appointed to committees based on her education and experience as an attorney.

She might have name recognition, but come on, every candidate for president either married into money/power or was born into it. HRC at least has the power in congress and goodwill on the international stage that very few else have. She has also seen first hand the stress of a presidency, so she is well equipped to handle it.

To say that "oh its so sad the first female president is the wife of Bill" is BS. Without Bill she would be on the path of the white house. Study her education, work, and congress path and you will see. I think she could easily have taken senator if she had never married Bill, and probably would have had it sooner.


Posted by Original Monique | December 11, 2007 5:18 PM

"Married to Elizabeth Edwards" is one of my top reasons for supporting John Edwards.

Posted by amy | December 11, 2007 5:31 PM

Monique, please read me @25. Hillary is not anti-feminist. Voting for her is not an anti-feminist action. Still, it's possible to have reservations about her candidacy that come from a specifically feminist perspective.

I vigorously dispute your contention that she would be "on the path to the White House" without Bill. Plenty of people have stellar resumes; the vast majority of them do not have a chance to run for president.

Furthermore, not every candidate "married into money/power or was born into it." You need to read up on your candidates.

Posted by annie | December 11, 2007 5:32 PM

The flipside: Would I have voted for Bill if he wasn't married to Hillary?

Answer: No. She's smarter, more poised, and more aggressive.

Would I vote for Barack if he weren't married to Michelle?

Answer: No. She's smarter, more poised, and more aggressive.

We often vote for men because we view their spouses as assets. I have no problem viewing Hillary's marriage to Bill as a plus.

Posted by Soupytwist | December 11, 2007 6:57 PM

calling ECB's hillary article "smart" really seems unfair. let me sum it up:
"should women vote for hillary because she is a woman? well, i don't necessarily agree with all her policies and plans - in fact, i like edwards better - and studies have shown that men with daughters (both obama and edwards have daughters) tend to vote more in favor of feminist issues than even women, but tee-hee, i'm just a girl so i should vote for the girl, even if she's not the best candidate or the one who best represents my views."
it's patently anti-feminist as it judges the candidates simply on which one pees sitting down.
it's as if i had said "i think hillary is the best candidate, but i am voting for edwards because he's a white male and we white males need to stick together."

also, the reason hillary's "experience" gets scrutinized is because SHE points to it as the reason she should be elected. she is absolutely qualified and talented enough to be president, but "experience"? please.
i'm with you annie - makes me queasy too.

Posted by eyeroller | December 12, 2007 9:03 AM

I have been saying this for months, just not so eloquently. I want a woman president, just not a woman who is primarily defined by her husband. Thank-you for posting it :)

Posted by Nicole | December 12, 2007 11:27 AM

Nobody's reading this anymore, but Jamier or Jaimer or Je T'aimer [I forgot] - Clinon has four more years than Obama as a senator, but what did she do in the senate? Voted for the war. Proposed altering the Constitution to ban flag burning. So I have no interest in her. And Obama held elected office before his senate job, unlike Clinton, who got there straight from her wife gig. And he did stuff, including getting very important death penalty legislation passed in Illinois.

Posted by Phoebe | December 13, 2007 5:42 PM

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