In politics, the word carries one core meaning- 'don't take this course of action'. The reasons behind the use of the word, though, are many, depending on when, how, and how often it is used. It can be a symbol of naked partisanship. It can be a symbol of obstrucionism. It can be a symbol of a relic of an older age raging against his way of life's dying light.
However, if one says 'no' to anything and everything, all the time, nearly regardless of circumstance, it becomes a symbol of fiscal responsibility, of a strange kind of affection.
Welcome to the world of Doctor No. By my research, there appear to have been three throughout Congressional history, all in the House.
THE FIRST DOCTOR: Nathaniel Macon, North Carolina (1791-1828)
Legislating out of Warrenton, North Carolina, Macon put in five years and change as the sixth Speaker of the House, from 1801-1807. He was an advocate of slavery, but this was before slavery had become an issue that would drive the nation to civil war. It was said that in his 37 years of service in the House, "no ten members gave as many negative votes." According to Historical Sketches of North Carolina, from 1584 to 1851, he stated a credo that "The world is governed too much; that society in every state is a blessing, but government in its best state but a necessary evil, for when we suffer from the miseries of a government our calamity is heightened by the reflection that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is a badge of fallen innocence; the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise."
Over the years, the "negative radical" would say no to just about any spending bill that came along. He opposed having a navy, he opposed the Alien and Sedition Acts, he opposed the Jay Treaty, he opposed war with France in 1798-99, he opposed chartering a national bank on two separate occasions, he opposed any tariff of anything, he opposed an increase of power to the Supreme Court, he opposed being paid extra for travel when he took a seat in the Senate, he opposed a bill that had his own name on it (Macon Bill No. 2, which would suspend trade with Britain or France if they meddled in American commerce). And, of course, he opposed taxes.
He did, however, support the Louisiana Purchase, and was hoping to get Florida along with it.
He also opposed having his papers sitting around after his death. So he had them burned. Through all this, his constituents evidently loved him to death, so much so that in 1835, they hauled him out of retirement to help write a new state constitution.
THE SECOND DOCTOR: Harold Gross, Iowa (1949-1975)
Legislating out of Waterloo, Iowa, Gross primaried out seven-termer John W. Gwynne in the 1948 election season. He then served 12 terms of his own, at one point being the only member of Iowa's Republican delegation to withstand the 1964 Democratic wave (though only barely).
Gross in the 93rd Congress was the most conservative-and in fact furthest-leaning in any direction- federal legislator in American history, according to DW-NOMINATE. The 93rd convened in 1973, the last of Gross' 13 terms. Prior to his time in Congress, Gross spent time as a radio commentator and was known as "the fastest tongue in radio"; one of his staffmates at WHO in Des Moines was Ronald Reagan.
Gross, AKA "The Useful Pest", was even more scrutinizing of spending than Ron Paul. He was often in the House chamber even when votes were not being taken and almost nobody else was, listening to speeches, taking notes, and then almost habitually voting no due to the cost. He only admitted one regret: that he voted 'present' instead of 'no' on the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Unsurprisingly, it was because the Vietnam War ended up being too expensive. He didn't care what it was if it was too expensive: the Peace Corps, the National Endowment for the Arts, pensions for military veterans, John F. Kennedy's funeral, the gas for the eternal flame lit at the funeral, the Marshall Plan, the United Nations, foreign aid in general, the Highway Beautification Act, the space program, White House security-- you name it, Gross refused to spend money for it. Gross even had a catchphrase: "How much will this boondoggle cost?"
The nos continued beyond the spending bills, going against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (though he voted for the 1960 Act), the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 26th Amendment, the Rehabilitiation Act,
Even so, he was well-respected, even though his social life consisted largely of heading home and watching professional wrestling. Every session, the House would set aside the designation 'H.R. 144' for Gross, as a gross is 144, and his name was, after all, "H.R. Gross". When he retired, the rest of Congress chipped in to send he and his wife on a round-the-world vacation (Gross refused to spend taxpayer money on trips.) Gross welled up in appreciation, but as he left, he made one last quip: "Wherever we go, I am sure I'll see you all on your taxpayers' junkets!" His vacancy was filled by Chuck Grassley.
A veteran of World War 1, Gross is buried at Arlington.
THE THIRD DOCTOR: Ron Paul, Texas (1976-1977, 1979-1985, 1997-current)
You probably know who Ron Paul is, but let's do a refresher anyway, shall we? Legislating out of Lake Jackson, Texas, Paul ran for the 2008 Republican Presidential nomination, coming in 4th place. This was Paul's second Presidential run. He entered Congress in 1976 in a special election, losing the ensuing general to Robert Gammage, and then won the rematch two years later in 1979. He ran a failed campaign for the Senate, and his seat was filled by Tom DeLay. He would run his first Presidential campaign in 1988, running as the Libertarian nominee. He would return to the Republican fold in time for his return to the House in 1996, beating Charles Morris.
Paul is notable for casting 'no' votes in the House on any piece of legislation not explicitly approved in the U.S. Constitution, including, as with Macon and Gross, most any spending bill. This has led to several instances where he will be the only member of Congress voting against particular bills, up to and including the awarding of a Congressional Gold Medal to Charles Schulz. He also routinely introduces bills abolishing the income tax or Federal Reserve, or instituting term limits. Paul has also opposed national ID numbers, International Criminal Court jurisdiction over the military, the Department of Education, the War on Drugs, the Iraq War, birthright citizenship, membership in NAFTA, the UN and NATO, farm subsidies and federal flood insurance. This is despite the fact that he represents a coastal, rural district.
A district that loves him. First off, he applies the same 'no' mentality to himself; he is one of two members of Congress (along with Howard Coble of North Carolina) that has pledged not to take a pension. Second, outstanding constituent service is a hallmark of his office. In more ways than usual. The Third Doctor is an actual doctor; according to his official website, he has delivered over 4,000 babies.
Who knows... one of them might someday become the Fourth Doctor.