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Posts Tagged ‘no’

I can’t help but wonder if  America has become the nation of “no.” We certainly see it in Congress, where Democrats call Republicans “the party of no.” Truly, many members of the GOP appear to have decided to veto anything the Dems or the White House proposes just because they can.  While guest speaker Newt Gingrich urged a “yes” approach at the recent Southern Republican Leadership Conference, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin dismissed those concerns, suggesting “there is no shame in being the party of no,” a comment that won her the first of many standing ovations. From the insistence on scrapping the entire healthcare plan to current plans to nay-say both Wall Street reform to the nomination process for a Supreme Court justice to replace John Stephens on the Supreme Court, “just say no” seems to be the GOP’s current default position.

The culture of “no” extends well beyond Washington politics into society as a whole. Some of it―scratch that―most of it is based on fear. The list of things we don’t want in our backyards or at our front doors grows daily, from same-sex marriages to incineration plants that convert trash into energy. In New Jersey, the budgeting antidote to years of irresponsible fiscal spending (most of it under Democrats) is for the Governor’s office to say hell, no to teachers and schools and hospitals and municipalities, most of which have responded to calls for cuts and consolidation with a big uh-uh and the possibility of a property tax hike (which, in New Jersey, is kind of redundant).

“No” has its uses, particularly when it comes to overindulgence, whether our vice is food, shopping, or real estate flipping. It also works for a fair amount of parenting. Teenagers may insist they are just like adults but they continue to exhibit either unintentional or willful naivety when it comes to the power of the Internet communiques to maim or destroy the lives of their peers. No, everybody on the Internet is not fair game; no, bullying is not “okay” as long as there’s no pushing and shoving; no, you’re not safe just because you can’t see who you’re chatting with; no, you may not go out after prom, get plastered and drive with five other equally plastered seventeen-year-olds. When it comes to the kids, “no” should always remain in play.

But as adults in a country that’s supposed to embody the can-do spirit, we’re moved not one year but light years away from “yes we can.” Whether it’s cutting down on fossil fuel  or spending or calories, sharing the pain of American troops abroad, providing for them when they return, or finding a way to support the infrastructure, research, or educational improvements that might make us a global force, we just can’t muster up enough spirit to say, “go for it.” Instead, we reach for no and its variants: not likely, too hard, I doubt it, let’s not, can’t risk it, we mustn’t, you can’t, I won’t,  they shouldn’t.

While “yes” may at times be impulsive, even reckless, “no” carries with it an air of finality, like someone who picks up his marbles and goes home. Coupled with the nostalgia expressed by some Americans for the good old days that weren’t all that good, no has become more about staying-in-place and making no changes than about common sense or even caution. For that we have “slow” or even “whoa” which at least suggest that a discussion or a debate is in order. “No” is an ultimatum, the end of the line, the referee’s final whistle. It’s also beginning to feel like a big stumbling block on the road to progress and prosperity– and that’s no good.

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