A year that began with calls for civility turned into a year of protests, scandals, gridlock and a gaffe-prone presidential race. Here are the top 10 political themes from 2011.
1. Occupy / We are the 99%
The Occupy Wall Street Movement that spread to other cities in the United States and around the globe brought the issue of income inequality into the spotlight. The movement's catchphrase, “we are the 99 percent,” was coined to convey the message that the top one percent in the nation, in terms of wealth and power, have enriched themselves at the expense of the bottom 99 percent.
2. Crony Capitalism
“Crony capitalism” was another theme of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, but unlike “we are the 99 percent,” it had a broader appeal. In fact, Sarah Palin was the first to feature crony capitalism as a main theme in a speech at a Tea Party event in September. Crony capitalism is when the government and businesses conspire to benefit themselves to the detriment of everyone else.
3. Debt Ceiling
The debt ceiling went mostly unnoticed by much of the public during its nearly 100-year existence. Then, for two months this past summer, it was the only thing that mattered in Washington. The Republican Party, as a result of the Tea Party influenced 2010 elections, decided it would not raise the debt ceiling without cuts in government spending and some guarantee that the nation's finances would be put on a path toward fiscal stability. An agreement was finally reached just in time to prevent a government default on payments due.
As a result of the debt ceiling negotiations, Congress created the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, or “supercommittee.” The supercommittee was supposed to do what Congress as whole could not – fashion a bipartisan compromise that would reform entitlements, reform the tax code and cut spending. The supercommittee failed to reach an agreement before its Thanksgiving eve deadline.
With high unemployment rates all year long, job creation has been one of the biggest political battles of the year. President Obama presented his “jobs bill” before a Sept. 8 joint session of Congress. The legislation became the foundation for his many campaign-like stump speeches he has since been giving across the nation. It set off a national conversation on how the government can best create jobs with Democrats favoring government spending and Republicans favoring tax cuts for businesses.
6. Arab Spring
The uprisings in the Middle East have upended much of the conventional wisdom about the region. Dubbed the “Arab Spring” (a misnomer because it includes many non-Arabs), the revolts toppled decades old regimes in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. The protests continue with violence in the streets of Syria as world leaders urge President Bashar Assad to relinquish power.
The year began with the shooting of Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords (D-Ariz). A federal judge and five others were fatally wounded in the Jan. 8 attack. Though it turned out that the shooter was not politically motivated, the incident inspired national soul-searching on the need for greater civility in politics. The sentiments did not last long, however, as the rest of the year was distinguished with hyper-partisanship and gridlock. Congress ended the year with the lowest approval rating since modern polling began.
President Obama's poster-child for America's green energy future in 2009 became his first real scandal in 2011. The solar power company Solyndra went bankrupt and its offices were raided by the FBI. The congressional investigations that followed showed an incompetent White House obsessed with image and reelection.
Herman Cain, a Georgia businessman with little political experience, vaulted to the top of the polls in the Republican presidential race after winning the Florida straw poll at the end of September. Part of his appeal was his contagious optimism and rags-to-riches life story. His campaign was also propelled by his simple, easy to understand economic plan – 9-9-9. Cain would scrap the current bloated tax code and replace it with a nine percent income tax, nine percent corporate tax and nine percent sales tax. His campaign was ultimately undone, however, by allegations of sexual impropriety and a series of foreign policy stumbles.
There were many gaffes among the Republican presidential contenders on 2011, including, Michele Bachmann confused the birthplace of serial killer John Wayne Gacy with actor John Wayne, Newt Gingrich called the House Republican's economic plan “right-wing social engineering,” Rick Perry got the voting age and election date wrong, and Herman Cain could not remember his policy toward Libya. After Texas Governor Rick Perry was unable to remember the third cabinet department he would eliminate if elected president, he was left with one word that would come to describe much of the Republican presidential campaign season in 2011 – oops!