The Power of No

One of The Atlantic’s “Biggest Ideas of the Year” in 2008 was “post-partisanship.” Actually, as the amplifying mini-essay conceded, the notion that our world would be better if politics would rise above partisanship—-or if politicians would rise above politics, or if governing would rise above politicians, or something like that—is not new. It is the meat and potatoes of every newspaper editorial board. It is the result of every public-opinion poll. Every election brings another general or business executive who promises to do what’s best for the country, not what will garner the most votes. The conundrum of begging people to vote for you because you are not someone (that is, a typical politician) who goes around begging people to vote for you may be why a general or business executive doesn’t get very far.

This is the year when partisanship made a comeback, with no post about it. Republicans decided to oppose President Obama’s health-care-reform proposal before they—or, for that matter, Obama himself—knew what was in it. Their slogan, echoing Nancy Reagan, was “Just say no.” They didn’t offer an alternative proposal. They rejected all those imploring them to come to the table, to be reasonable, even to merely look reasonable. They were, in a word, partisan.

The health-care bill passed, of course, so partisanship didn’t work. Or did it? We’ll find out on Election Day. If the Republicans do well, we can count on a lot more no from both parties. And people will continue to deplore partisanship, and continue to vote for the perpetrators. And that may not be a bad thing. After all, there is another word for a system in which politicians unapologetically beg for your vote on the basis of concrete promises that they either keep or break, allowing you to decide whether to vote for them again. It’s called democracy.

14 3/4. Reefer Sanity
by Joshua Green
7. Information Wants to Be Paid For
by Walter Isaacson
14. It’s Too Easy Being Green
by Kai Ryssdal
6. The Kids Aren’t All Right
by David Leonhardt
13. Teachers Are Fair Game
by David Brooks
5. Bonfire of the Knuckleheads
by Jeffrey Goldberg
12. The Rise of the Drones
by Martha Raddatz
4. The Power of No
by Michael Kinsley
11. Obama Is No Liberal
by James Bennet
3. Boredom is Extinct
by Walter Kirn
10. The Triumph of Free Speech
by Jeffrey Rosen
America Is No. 2
by James Fallows
9. The Catholic Church Is Finished
by Ross Douthat
1. The End of Men
by Hanna Rosin
8. Deficits Matter
by Megan McArdle
PLUS: More Ideas of the Year
From TARP to sleeping with Tiger Woods